Five Britons released from Russian detention in Ukraine after a prisoner swap have arrived back “safely” in the UK.
One of the men, Shaun Pinner, is now back at the family home near Sandy in Bedfordshire.
“It’s good to be home,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a steak dinner tonight!”
For his mother, Debbie Price, the relief is overwhelming.
She told Sky’s Emma Birchley: “It’s been a really, really hard time. We are just so happy to have him home. It’s hugely emotional.”
Aiden Aslin, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill have been identified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the other Britons released.
Back in April, Mr Pinner and Aiden Aslin were captured by Russian forces who accused them of being mercenaries.
As a result, they appeared in court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine, and were threatened with death by firing squad.
At the time, Mr Pinner’s family stressed he was “not a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serving with the Ukrainian army”.
On their flight home, Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner recorded a message, thanking those who had worked to free them.
“We’re now out of the danger zone and on our way home to our families,” said Mr Aslin.
“By the skin of our teeth,” Mr Pinner, who is from Bedfordshire, added.
Prior to their release, four of the men featured in video clips posted online or on Russian state TV.
The first hint Mr Pinner had that something was happening was after lunch on Tuesday.
“They said you have to roll your stuff up. They said you’re going on a long journey,” he said.
‘We were moved to another location. We didn’t have any idea what was happening.”
He was flown with other released captives to Saudi Arabia and at 5.30pm UK time on Wednesday, he was able to speak to his mother on the phone, from the Middle Eastern country.
“It’s very emotional, as you can imagine,” he said.
However, the 48-year-old, who has been living in Ukraine since 2018, has many friends still there, as well as his wife.
Today is their second wedding anniversary.
It’s hoped she will be able to get a visa to also come to the UK.
In footage broadcast on Russian state TV in April, Mr Pinner said he had been fighting in the besieged port city of Mariupol for five to six weeks.
In the months before he appeared in court, he told Sky News he was on his fourth tour of duty in Ukraine after serving in the British Army for nine years.
After the news broke the Britons would be returning to the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss said she “hugely welcomed” the move, adding it would end “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.
Who else was released?
Almost 300 people were released in the prisoner swap, many of them from the Ukrainian Azov regiment, which gained fame for its defence of the final stronghold in Mariupol.
Mr Harding was among the small group of soldiers who were holed up inside the Azovstal steelworks in the southeastern city.
Ten other foreigners have been released to Saudi Arabia before they return home, including Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, Americans Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, a Croatian, and a Swedish national.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “We remember all our people and try to save every Ukrainian.
“This is the meaning of Ukraine, our essence, this is what distinguishes us from the enemy.”
The exchange took place unexpectedly, coming as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons.
It was brokered with help from Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has close ties with Mr Putin.