Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists begin prisoner swap

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) — Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine began a prisoner exchange yesterday, according to the Ukrainian president’s office and separatists.

The exchange comes as part of an agreement brokered last year at a summit of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. The aim is to take confidence-building steps that could lead to an end of the six-year war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 14,000 people and aggravated tensions between Russia and the West.

Ukraine hopes to take back 19 of its citizens in the swap with the two separatist entities in the rebel-controlled east, according to a statement from the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It was not immediately clear how many rebels would be released in total.

It was the third prisoner exchange since Zelenskiy was elected in a landslide last year on promises of ending the conflict, which began in 2014. “The current exchange demonstrates the effectiveness of the president’s strategy and compliance with the agreements reached at the summit,” the statement read.

Russia-backed separatist war prisoners wearing masks to protect against coronavirus walk during a prisoner exchange. PHOTO: AP