Ukraine's Zelenskiy: 10 civilians released from captivity in Russia and Belarus

European Union leaders' summit in Brussels

(Reuters) -President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday that 10 people, all civilians, were handed back to Ukraine as part of an exchange of detainees after several years of captivity in Russia and its ally Belarus.

"We managed to bring back 10 more of our people from Russian captivity, despite all the difficulties," Zelenskiy wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Zelenskiy thanked a team dedicated to securing the release of the captives, including the Vatican.

Ukrainian officials said the return of the civilians was part of an exchange of prisoners of war conducted earlier this week under which each side handed back 90 detainees.

Russia did not comment and Ukraine made no mention of any release of Russians in captivity.

Among those brought back was Nariman Dzhelyal, deputy head of the assembly of the ethnic Crimean Tatar community, seized by Russian occupation forces in 2021, seven years after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

Also freed were two eastern rite Catholic priests captured by Russian forces in the occupied port of Berdiansk on the Sea of Azov.

Five of those liberated had been held in ex-Soviet Belarus, Moscow's closest ally, which allowed the Kremlin to use its territory to help launch the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Two other civilians, a man and a woman, had been held on charges of espionage and treason since 2017-2018 in areas of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-financed separatists in 2014.

"Today marks the historic return of Ukrainian civilians held for years by Russia," Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine's parliamentary commissioner for human rights, said on Telegram.

"This is joyous news for Ukrainian families and a sign that such returns will continue."

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Oleksander Kozhukhar; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)