British Army veteran Shaun Pinner smiling after his release
British Army veteran Shaun Pinner smiling after his release (Picture: SPAENG/Twitter).
Ukraine

Veterans captured in Ukraine by pro-Russian forces return to UK

British Army veteran Shaun Pinner smiling after his release
British Army veteran Shaun Pinner smiling after his release (Picture: SPAENG/Twitter).

Two UK military veterans are among five Britons that have been released after being captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.

The men have now returned to the UK, a non-profit organisation supporting one of the families said. 

It is understood that Army veterans John Harding, a former paratrooper, and Shaun Pinner, ex-Royal Anglian Regiment, were set free as well as Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill on Wednesday.

They landed in Britain in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Prime Minister Liz Truss said on Wednesday that the release of five Britons had been secured by working with Ukrainian authorities and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, but the identities of the men were not initially confirmed.

Non-profit organisation the Presidium Network, which has been supporting the family of Mr Healy, told the PA news agency that all five had landed "safely" in the UK and had been reunited with their families.

Dominik Byrne, co-founder of the organisation, said: "We don't know exactly if they’ve all returned back to their homes yet, but we do know they’re with families at the moment."

The Foreign Office has not commented on the whereabouts of the men.

Mr Aslin's release was confirmed by his local MP Robert Jenrick, while multiple reports also indicated that Mr Pinner would also be returning home.

A video emerged late on Wednesday of two men sitting inside an airliner, in which Mr Aslin introduced himself and Mr Pinner, adding: "We just want to let everyone know that we're now out of the danger zone and we’re on our way home to our families.”

Mr Pinner interjected: "By the skin of our teeth," as Mr Aslin continued: "We just want everyone to know the good news etc, so thanks to everyone that's been supporting us and whatnot, so it's really muchly appreciated."

Mr Pinner added: "Thanks to everybody."

A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic had sentenced Mr Aslin to death alongside fellow British detainee Mr Pinner in July.

Ms Truss, who is visiting New York for a UN summit where world leaders are discussing the ongoing war in Ukraine, tweeted: "Hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families."

She thanked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky "for his efforts to secure the release of detainees, and Saudi Arabia for their assistance".

"Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political ends," Ms Truss added.

Mr Harding, along with Mr Hill and Mr Healy, went on trial last month in the city of Donetsk, Russian media reported.

They all pleaded not guilty to charges of mercenarism and "undergoing training to seize power by force", according to Russian media.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the release "brings to an end many months of uncertainty and suffering, including the threat of the death penalty, for them and their families, at the hands of Russia".