On 31 January, Ukrainian Colonel Denys Prokopenko (callsign Redis), commander of the Azov Regiment, revealed in a Facebook post that over 900 Azov fighters remain in Russian captivity.
His announcement followed the earlier return of 207 Ukrainian POWs from Russian captivity on the same day.
“Over 900 Azov fighters, who honorably defended Mariupol and for 86 days prevented the enemy from timely redeploying forces and resources to advance towards Zaporizhzhia, remain in Russian captivity,” Prokopenko wrote.
During the 50th exchange of prisoners, which took place on 31 January, 207 Ukrainian defenders were released from Russian captivity, including 95 Armed Forces members, 56 National Guardsmen, 26 border guards, 29 Territorial Defense fighters, and one National Police representative.
Azov commander expressed his joy for those who gained freedom and wished them a swift recovery. However, he voiced his sorrow that the names of his fellow fighters from the Azov regiment, who defended Mariupol, were again missing from the exchange lists.
Prokopenko led the Azov regiment during the defense of Mariupol in the spring of 2022, enduring nearly three months of total encirclement. On 16-20 May, Following Kyiv’s order, the encircled defenders of Mariupol left their last stronghold in the city, the Azovstal steel mill, to “save the lives of the personnel.” Prokopenko, along with other commanders and 2,000 troops, was taken into Russian captivity. He and four other commanders of the Mariupol defense were transferred to Türkey on 21 September 2022, where they remained for almost a year. On 8 July 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy secured their release through negotiations with Türkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.