Former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich is said to have played a “key role” in the release of five British prisoners.
John Harding was freed from Russian captivity on Wednesday along with Shaun Pinner, Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill.
The group landed in the UK in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Speaking to The Sun, Mr Harding said the former Chelsea boss introduced himself to Mr Pinner.
Mr Abramovich’s assistant then said the Russian had played a “key role” in their release.
The 55-year-old announced he would sell Chelsea on March 2 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He was then sanctioned by the UK government on March 10, with Downing Street claiming to have proved his ties to Vladimir Putin.
“Shaun had a long chat with him about football and I spoke to his assistant,” Mr Harding told The Sun.
‘She said Roman played a key role in getting us back. It’s quite extraordinary to think he was involved – and I couldn’t even have told you who he was just by looking at him.
“He’s very well respected by the Ukrainians and now massively by us too – he’s done a hell of a lot for us and we can’t thank him enough.
“He was a solid guy, a really lovely guy. He’s a legend – we absolutely love him and I’m so grateful for his efforts.”
Yesterday Mr Pinner’s family said he was “in good spirits” and “looking forward to a steak and glass of red wine” upon his release.
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin to death in July.
They had both lived in Ukraine for several years and were serving in the regular armed forces when full-scale war broke out.
In a statement released by the Foreign Office, Mr Pinner’s family said: “We would like to thank everyone involved in Shaun’s release, particularly everyone at the Foreign Office, Liz Truss and her team, Boris Johnson and the (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky.
“Shaun would also like to thank the Saudi government for the hospitality and Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, who also helped negotiate his release.
“It is a very emotional time, as you can expect, and we are currently unable to fully discuss all the details so early in its release. It has been a distressing time for Shaun and our family who have now found such a happy resolution.
Three of the British nationals liberated by pro-Russian forces have been 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.
The mother of Mr Aslin, whose release was confirmed by his local MP Robert Jenrick, told the BBC she feared she would “never see him alive again”.
“His release happened overnight, I’m still in shock,” said Angela Wood.
“The first thing I had to do was hug him tight and make sure it was real. It still doesn’t feel real now.’
Video emerged late Wednesday of the two men sitting on a plane, in which Mr Aslin introduced himself and Mr Pinner, adding: “We just want to let everyone know that we have now moved out of harm’s way and are on our way.” home to our families.’
Mr Pinner interjected, saying “by the skin of our teeth”, while Mr Aslin continued: “We just want everyone to know the good news etc so thank you to everyone who has and hasn’t supported us so it’s going to be real very appreciated.”
Prime Minister Liz Truss, visiting New York for a UN summit, tweeted: “Very welcome news that five British nationals being held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine will be safely returned, causing months of uncertainty and suffering for.” they and their families terminated.’
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/09/23/roman-abramovich-played-key-role-in-release-of-british-prisoners-17434900/ Roman Abramovich played a "key role" in the release of British prisoners