"During my visit to Turkey, I had an opportunity to meet with our guys from Azov. They are here under the terms of exchange, and today Head of the President’s Office Andriy Yermak managed to organize a meeting with their families. It was very emotional. The path toward this moment was long and difficult. Finally, they were able to hug," Zelenska posted on Telegram.
The First Lady conveyed congratulations and gratitude to the fighters from Ukraine, the President and "all the people for whom they fight."
"Important day. The main thing is that Ukraine fights and will fight for all our people. There are still many of them in Russian captivity – men and women, military and civilians. And we need everyone. Alive," Zelenska emphasized.
She also conveyed the blessings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whom she had met the day before in Istanbul, to the Ukrainian defenders and their families.
In turn, Head of the President’s Office Andriy Yermak, on behalf of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and personally, expressed gratitude and sincere respect to the Ukrainian military for their courage, bravery and resilience, the President's Office informs.
He noted that no one would be able to fully understand the trials that the defenders of Azovstal went through, but this experience of captivity could be used to mitigate the fate of other Ukrainian prisoners of war.
"We must release everyone who remains in Russian captivity and behind bars, everyone who was forcibly deported. You understand how important this is. People are the most valuable for Ukraine. And we are fighting hard for the return of every defender and every civilian," he said.
The Head of the President’s Office also emphasized the importance of organizing the rehabilitation of the released service members and their adaptation to normal life.
Yermak noted that during the time the servicemen were in captivity, their families also had to go through extremely difficult trials, and they coped with them with dignity.
"Your relatives fought for your release persistently. They have been waiting for you for so long," he said.
He also emphasized that the families of the Azovstal defenders were fighting for the release of all those who were still in captivity. And these efforts are extremely important and deserve enormous respect.
The Head of the President’s Office wished the heroes a speedy recovery and expressed his belief that thanks to the courage and self-sacrifice of our soldiers and people, Ukraine will win and the commanders will be able to return to the homeland and reunite with their families. Until then, Ukraine, together with its partners, will take care of the safety of soldiers and their families.
According to Yermak, the history of the defense of Mariupol and Azovstal steel works became for the whole world a testimony of the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people and will remain an example of indomitability for many generations of Ukrainians.
"Mariupol became our Thermopylae. Like about the 300 Spartans, the whole world should know about the defense and tragedy of Mariupol. But the most important thing I always say is that the heroes must be alive," Yermak summed up.
As reported, more than 200 Ukrainian defenders, as well as ten foreigners who fought on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, returned from Russian captivity within the prisoner swap on September 21.
The five freed Azov Regiment commanders will stay in Turkey under the personal security guarantees of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan until the end of the full-scale war.