Sat 07 September 2019:
Russia and Ukraine have exchanged 35 prisoners each to the other country, in what could be a significant step towards easing tensions between the two sides.
Planes carrying Russians and Ukrainians freed in the prisoner exchange landed at Moscow’s Vnukovo and Kiev’s Boryspil airports on Saturday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the exchange as the first step towards ending the war in Ukraine’s east and returning territory annexed by Moscow.
“We have taken the first step,” he said after greeting the former prisoners at the airport in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.
“We have to take all the steps to finish this horrible war,” he said, pledging to also return “our territory”.
The exchange, the first since 2017, took place after lengthy negotiations.
Those released by Russia include all 24 Ukrainian sailors who were detained by Russia in November last year in the Sea of Azov, as well as Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was convicted of plotting”terrorist” acts. He had denied the charges.
Russia and Ukraine have been in a conflict since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea after a controversial referendum.
Fighting between troops and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 13,000 people since then.
Ukraine blames the Kremlin for separatist violence in east Ukraine.
Olexiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at Kiev Mohyla Academy, told Al Jazeera the prisoner swap might help to decrease tensions between the two countries.
“However, normalisation of the bilateral relations is not possible as long as Russia keep on occupying Crimea and without a stable ceasefire in the east of the country,” he said.
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