Ukraine, Russia complete long-awaited prisoner swap

Ukraine and Russia have concluded a long-awaited prisoner swap, with each country exchanging 35 captives in a move widely seen as a breakthrough in easing tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.

The freed Ukrainian prisoners include the 24 sailors captured by the Russian army after the so-called Kerch Strait incident in November 2018, and illegally held ever since.

Among those Ukrainians who returned home was Oleg Sentsov, a filmmaker who has criticised the Kremlin and who was detained on trumped-up terrorism charges, and Pavlo Hryb, a Ukrainian activist who was reportedly captured in Belarus by Belarusian and Russian intelligence services in 2017 and was convicted by a Russian court for six years

“We all took the first step,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the media at Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport, where the plane carrying the freed Ukrainians landed.

“We know what to do next. As you can see, we don’t just talk, we have results. Next, we will work on returning all our hostages and will continue working within the Minsk process on the disengagement of forces,” he continued.

Heading to other way, the 35 prisoners released by Kyiv included Volodymyr Tsemakh, a key Russian witness in the downing of Malaysian Airline flight MH17, shot down by pro-Russian rebels in Donbas in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

Earlier this week, the Dutch government urged Mr Zelensky not to release Mr Tsemakh, while 40 members of the European Parliament also called on the president not to hand him over to Russia.

Photo: Official website of the president of Ukraine