Ukraine swaps over 300 prisoners with separatists

Ukraine swaps over 300 prisoners with separatists

Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed rebels began exchanging prisoners in eastern Ukraine Wednesday, the first major transfer in months and the largest such swap since a pro-Russian uprising erupted in that part of the former Soviet republic in 2014.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko confirmed on social media "All 74 Ukrainian hostages are already at home, on the territory controlled by our army". He said after his release in Horlivka that he would join the Ukrainian military again.

The exchange was supervised by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a trans-Atlantic security and rights group that has deployed monitors to eastern Ukraine.

The prisoner swap was confirmed on Monday when Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, met with pro-Russia separatist leaders at Moscow's Danilovsky monastery.

Both sides accuse each other of breaking the terms of the truce, which had been agreed during talks between representatives of Russia, Ukraine, separatist forces, and the OSCE in Minsk, Belarus, on 20 December.

Journalists, activists and bloggers who had been accused of spying or treason were among those released. "The exchange process is over", Ms Lutsenko said on Facebook.

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Merkel and Macron said in a joint statement that they "encourage the parties to the conflict also to enable the exchange of the remaining prisoners, grant the International Committee of the Red Cross full access and support the ICRC's search for missing people".

German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel greeted the long-awaited exchange as "an important step in the implementation of the Minsk agreements", urging the sides to conduct further steps to fulfill the peace deal.

"The UK welcomes the exchange of over 300 prisoners between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine".

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.

What do you think of the exchange of prisoners?

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