Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels swap prisoners

Casey Dawson
December 30, 2017

According to the terms of the deal, Kiev was meant to hand over 306 prisoners to the rebels and receive 74 prisoners in return. The 2015 Minsk peace agreements outlined a prisoner swap programme, but mutual distrust and constant ceasefire breakdowns have stymied the exchanges.

More than a dozen Ukrainian soldiers held by pro-Russian separatists have been released as part of a prisoner exchange.

"Allowing such a significant number of people, who have been held on both sides, to return home before the New Year and Orthodox Christmas is a very welcome development", said Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, the grou's chairperson.

The prisoners, some of whom had been held for more than a year, were exchanged in the town of Horlivka and the village of Zaitseve with their belongings.

Numerous captives are not combatants; some were activists and bloggers who were charged with spying or treason.

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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.

The conversation was Putin's first official contact with the heads of the breakaway republics, and came about at the urging of Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian business tycoon and politician who is close to the Kremlin. The Russian president then discussed the initiative with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Ukrainian republics over the phone.

"I'm out of hell, I have survived", said Yevhen Chudentsov, who served with one of Ukraine's volunteer battalions in the east and was taken prisoner in February 2015. Pasechnik announced he had also signed a pardon on Wednesday.

Eastern Ukraine has been the site of clashes between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia militias since 2014, when Ukraine's Moscow-aligned president was ousted by protesters in Kiev.In response, Russian Federation quickly annexed Crimea away from Ukraine, a step that most nations have refused to recognize as legitimate. Ukraine and its Western allies say the Russian government supports the pro-Russian separatists with troops, cash, and heavy weapons.

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