Ukraine, Russia-backed separatists swap more than 300 prisoners

Elias Hubbard
January 19, 2018

During Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual news conference of December 14, he had called on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to complete a prisoner exchange in war-ravaged eastern Ukraine by New Year's Eve.

The release and exchange of prisoners was one of the points in the Minsk peace agreement, signed in 2015.

"We will do more to get our citizens out of Russian jails.and because of that not a single Russian national was released by us now", he said, hinting that Kyiv would only agree to release Russians in Ukrainian custody in exchange for Ukrainians held in Russia.

After massive protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014 following his decision to scrap a landmark deal with the European Union, Russia seized control of the Crimea region and fomented separatism across eastern and southern Ukraine.

Among those released were journalists, bloggers and activists who had been accused of spying or treason.

Family and friends of the freed Ukrainian prisoners gathered at Kiev's Borispol airport where the former captives were expected to arrive on Wednesday evening.

"All 74 Ukrainian hostages are already at home, on the territory controlled by our army", Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.

The head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, thanked the patriarch for his involvement.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Spokesperson for ATO issues Oleksandr Motuzianyk said this at a press briefing on Wednesday, an Ukrinform correspondent reported.

"We hope it will continue, for not all held captives are released, from neither side", Kobtseva said. A ceasefire, part of the conditions set by the deal, was declared in September, but it has been violated multiple times by both sides.

More than 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million displaced in eastern Ukraine since fighting erupted there nearly four years ago. A Ukrainian soldier was shot on Saturday. There were further incidents since then.

There was no immediate comment from the authorities in Moscow, which Ukraine and its Western allies accuse of supporting the pro-Russian separatists with troops, cash and heavy weapons, an accusation Moscow denies.

Merkel and Macron emphasized that the prisoner exchange and a renewed commitment to a comprehensive ceasefire "should also serve to build up confidence between the parties to the conflict, also with a view to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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