Ukraine, Pro-Russian Forces Trade Prisoners to Mark the New Year

Saul Bowman
December 30, 2017

The agreement requires Kyiv to hand over 306 prisoners to the rebels and receive 74 prisoners in return. The prisoner swap is the largest to date, since the signing of the 2015 Minsk peace agreement.

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. The deal has stalled since and analysts say the swap does not signify wider progress.

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.

Carrying their belongings, the prisoners were turned over in the town of Horlivka and the village of Zaitseve, located in an area dividing the separatist regions and Ukraine. Some were activists and bloggers who were charged with 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.

The swap on the eve of the New Year and Orthodox Christmas holidays was agreed following negotiations involving Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Both sides hailed the swap, with the head of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, saying "people who have spent more than three years in captivity will be able to return home thanks to the church and the authorities". "The last conditions were negotiated", he said, voicing hope that "the Ukrainian side will keep its promises". A ceasefire that was supposed to go into effect on 23rd of December was shattered within hours when a Ukrainian soldier was killed.

Ukrainian forces and separatists backed by Russian Federation have fought for control of the country's eastern flank since 2014, in a bloody war that has killed more than 10,000 combatants and civilians. There were further incidents since then. A number of similar ceasefires have failed to take hold since the start of the conflict.

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

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