April 24, 2018

Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels swap prisoners

30 December 2017, 12:58 | Simon Arnold

Prisoners look out from a bus before the exchange near the city of Bakhmut

Prisoners look out from a bus before the exchange near the city of Bakhmut

The figures were significantly lower than previously declared, as dozens of prisoners - nearly all from the Ukrainian territory - have refused to move to the other side.

Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels have swapped hundreds of prisoners in the war-torn east of the country, one of the largest such exchanges since the outbreak of an insurgency nearly four years ago.

The exchange of prisoners was being carried out at a checkpoint near Horlivka, a city in the eastern Donetsk region.

Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists have begun to exchange more than 300 prisoners in the war-torn east of the country, in the largest such swap since the insurgency broke out in 2014.

Separatists from the self-proclaimed separatist republics in Luhansk and Donetsk regions handed over 74 prisoners, and Ukrainian authorities delivered 233.

On Tuesday, Zakharchenko said he had issued a pardon of prisoners.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, centre right, and the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Patriarch Filaret, right of Poroshenko, address prisoners released by separatists in the town of Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine.

Numerous captives are not combatants; some were activists and bloggers who were charged with spying or treason. "The last conditions were negotiated", he said, voicing hope that "the Ukrainian side will keep its promises".

The OSCE welcomed the swap and urged the two sides to build on the momentum from it.

"I was in captivity for two years", said historian Igor Kozlovskiy, 63, who was captured by Donetsk rebels on suspicion of storing weapons. Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have since reported hundreds of ceasefire violations, and at least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past week.

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian Federation of sending troops and weapons across the border.

"Thank you for your perseverance, guys", Poroshenko said on Facebook.

The prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatist is an important development, and is a welcome step towards meeting the commitments all sides have made under the Minsk Agreements.

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