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Ukraine, pro-Russians swap prisoners

A Ukrainian serviceman gestures while standing guard in the settlement of Odradivka near the Mayorsk checkpoint, prior to a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and pro-Russians, on December 29, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The government in Ukraine carries out a prisoner exchange with pro-Russia forces seeking greater autonomy in the Russian-speaking east of the country.

The swap of dozens of prisoners went underway in a front-line operation near the town of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, on Sunday.

 “At the Mayorske checkpoint the process of releasing detained persons has begun,” the official Twitter account of the Ukrainian president said.

A representative of the pro-Russia forces in Donetsk, Daria Morozova, said they would get 87 prisoners, while 55 people would be handed over to Kiev.

Video footage later showed President Zelensky greeting freed prisoners disembarking from a plane.

The swap came three months after Ukraine carried out a long-awaited exchange with Russia of 35 prisoners each.

Some media reports said Kiev was also expected to hand over several jailed riot policemen suspected of killing protesters during a 2014 pro-Western uprising in the country.

Some of the Ukrainians whose family members were allegedly killed in that unrest have said they would initiate a wave of protests in the country if the prisoner swap took place.

The latest exchange comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky held their first summit, mediated by the leaders of France and Germany, in Paris, France, on December 9. At the summit, the leaders agreed to revive accords signed in 2015 that call for the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the restoration of Kiev’s control over its borders, wider autonomy for Donetsk and Lugansk, and the holding of local elections.

Since he came to power in May, President Zelensky has sought to end the conflict in the east, which has taken more than 13,000 lives since it started in 2014.

The Kremlin has announced its readiness to work with Zelensky to end the conflict.

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