Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels swap prisoners before New Year

Frederick Owens
December 28, 2017

Under the 2015 Minsk Agreement to stop the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Kiev administration and pro-Russia separatists must release captives, but to date hostage exchanges have been little seen.

The swap was carried out near Horlivka, a city in the eastern Donetsk region.

The prisoner exchange, which involved officials on both sides working around the clock for days to agree a list of names and legal framework for the swap, offers some optimism for hopes of progress on a workable peace deal.

Meanwhile, Zakharchenko suggested the exchange would use the "306 for 74" formula, meaning Ukraine would free 306 captured rebels while the pro-Russia militants would release 74 Ukrainian soldiers in exchange.

On Tuesday, Poroshenko met with the relatives of the hostages, saying: "Nothing is more important than to return our people home", according to a presidential statement.

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The Minsk agreements, meant to end the fighting in Ukraine, were signed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in the Belarussian capital in early 2015.

The peace protocol called for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine, as well as the release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held prisoners, dialogue on new local elections and the securing of Ukraine's eastern border with Russian Federation. "I call upon the sides to provide conditions of dignity and respect for each of the persons to be exchanged".

According to Poroshenko, among the prisoners handed to Ukraine were a historian and a "cyborg" - the nickname Ukrainians gave to soldiers who defended Donetsk airport in one of the conflict's most intense battles in 2014. The Ukrainian state security service said 103 prisoners remained in separatist hands.

The United States said last week that it was sending lethal weapons to Kiev to help it fight pro-Russia separatist forces. The Trump administration had already announced it would permit sales of some small arms to Ukraine from USA manufacturers.

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