The five British prisoners of war, released from Russian captivity, have now been reunited with their families, as Chloe Keedy reports
The family of one of five Britons released from captivity by Russian-backed forces revealed it has been a “harrowing time”.
Shaun Pinner was set free on Wednesday alongside Aiden Aslin, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill, landing in Britain in the early hours of Thursday morning.
His family said he was “in good spirits” and “is looking forward to steak and a glass of red wine”.
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic had sentenced Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin to death in July.
They had both lived in Ukraine for a number of years and were serving with its regular forces when the full-scale war broke out.
In a statement released by the Foreign Office, Mr Pinner’s family said: “We would like to thank everybody involved in Shaun’s release, especially all at the Foreign Office, Liz Truss and her team, Boris Johnson and President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy.
“Shaun would also like to thank the hospitality of the Saudi Government and Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud who also assisted in the negotiations for his freedom.
“It’s a very emotional time as you can expect and we are unable to currently discuss so early in his release any details fully."
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A photo issued by the Foreign Office appeared to show a beaming Mr Pinner with his loved ones.
Three of the British nationals freed by pro-Russian forces were hailed as defenders of “democracy and freedom” by their former commander in Ukraine.
Mr Harding, Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin are believed to have served in the Georgian Legion - a pro-Ukrainian volunteer unit - under Mamuka Mamulashvili.
“All those guys did their best to defend democracy and freedom,” Mr Mamulashvili said.
“They were in the Georgian Legion at approximately the same time… and they were perfect guys.
“It was very important for us to get those guys out of captivity because I’ve been in captivity myself and I know what it is.”
Upon returning to his family home in Newark, North Nottinghamshire, on Thursday, Mr Aslin said he was "good" and wanted to "thank everyone who helped secure our release".
He also told reporters that he wanted privacy after the "traumatic experience" he had been through.
Aiden Aslin returned to his family home, on Thursday, telling reporters he was 'good'
Prime Minister Liz Truss, who was visiting New York for a UN summit, 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 Mr Zelenskyy “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.
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”.
He continued: “Tragically that was not the case for one of those detained and our thoughts remain with the family of Paul Urey.”
The British aid volunteer died earlier this year while being detained by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.
Mr Urey's sister, Lyndsey Coulton, told ITV News that while she is pleased to see the five British prisoners of war return home she would have been "more happy if my brother had of been one of them".
She said: "It's heartbreaking to know that he's not coming home and that I'm never going to get to see him again or have that conversation that we always have.
Paul Urey's sister told ITV News her family 'need answers' from the government as to why more wasn't done to bring her brother back to the UK alive
"I miss him ringing me and saying 'hi sis, how are you today?' I miss all that and I just want it back."
Ms Coulton added her family "feel let down a little bit" with attempts by the government to return Mr Urey safely back home, saying "it's not acceptable".
Late on Wednesday, a video emerged 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, saying “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 what not, so it’s really muchly appreciated.”
Mr Pinner added: “Thanks to everybody.”
Roman Abramovitch helped secure release, says John Harding
Former owner of Chelsea FC Roman Abramovitch welcomed the men on a flight out of Russia, one of them has claimed.
John Harding says he spoke to his assistant, who said "Roman had played a key part in getting us back. It’s quite extraordinary to think he was involved — and I wouldn’t have even been able to tell you who he was by looking at him.
“He’s well respected by Ukrainians and massively by us now, too — he’s done a hell of a lot for us and we couldn’t thank him enough.
“He was a sound bloke, a really lovely guy. He’s a legend — we absolutely love him and I’m so grateful for his efforts.”
Abramovitch has been sanctioned by the UK government due to his alleged ties to Vladimir Putin's regime.