Ukraine, pro-Russia rebels take part in mass prisoner swap

Dec 30, 2017, 01:01
Ukraine, pro-Russia rebels take part in mass prisoner swap

The Office also expresses hope that all sides use this positive development to make progress on their remaining commitments under the Minsk Agreements, beginning with all sides adhering to the ceasefire; engaging cooperatively to reduce the humanitarian suffering of civilians on both sides of the line of contact; and Russian Federation withdrawing its weapons and personnel from eastern Ukraine.

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 first phase of the large-scale prisoner exchange was conducted at a checkpoint near the city of Horlivka in the Donetsk region.

The last prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels took place in September a year ago, when two pro-Kiev detainees were swapped for four separatist fighters at a checkpoint outside the rebel-held city of Lugansk. Officials said that 238 people held by the Ukrainian government had been handed over to the separatist-controlled regions of Luhansk and Dontesk.

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

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

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, greets one of the prisoners who was released by separatists in the town of Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

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

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict and casualties are still reported nearly daily despite a ceasefire that froze the frontlines in place since 2015. A Ukrainian soldier was shot on Saturday.

The United States said last week that it was sending lethal weapons to Kiev to help it fight pro-Russia separatist forces.

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

The 2015 deal brokered by France and Germany and signed in Minsk envisioned a prisoner exchange, but the two sides argued continuously over lists of captives and only a few dozen had been exchanged prior to Wednesday.

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