Udayavni Special

Ukraine rivals exchange 200 prisoners in controversial swap


PTI, Dec 30, 2019, 10:21 AM IST

Odradivka: Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in the country’s war-torn east exchanged 200 prisoners on Sunday, swapping detained fighters for civilians and servicemen held captive in some cases for years in two breakaway regions.

“It’s wonderful, I’m so happy,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told journalists after greeting former prisoners at Boryspil airport near Kiev.

A plane carrying 76 captives, including 12 military personnel and 64 civilians, was met by a crowd of relatives, some holding flowers and balloons.

Family members, some with children, rushed to embrace the former prisoners with tears and shouts of joy.

“Most of all I want to relax after all this and forget as soon as possible what was happening there,” Anatoliy Semerenko, one of the released civilians, told reporters.

Among those swapped were Stanislav Aseyev and Oleg Galazyuk, two journalists who contributed to the Ukrainian service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Kiev also handed over to separatists five riot policemen suspected of killing protesters during a pro-Western uprising in 2014 as part of the swap, sparking public outrage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the swap as “positive”.

The exchange came after Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Zelensky held their first face-to-face talks in Paris on December 9 and agreed on measures to de-escalate Europe’s only active war.

Earlier on Sunday prisoners filed off coaches at the Mayorske checkpoint in the eastern Donetsk region, many carrying plastic bags stuffed with their belongings, as gun-toting uniformed soldiers and ambulances were on standby.

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