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Ukraine crisis: Prisoner exchange begins

Ukraine crisis: Prisoner exchange begins”

Ukrainian authorities are transferring more than 260 people back to rebel-held areas, in return for some 70 prisoners who have been held by pro-Russia rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The Ukrainian leader then greeted prisoners released by the separatists in the town of Kramatorsk, hailing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron for helping organize the swap.

The prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatist is an important development, and is a welcome step towards meeting the commitments all sides have made under the Minsk Agreements. The deal has stalled since and analysts say the swap does not signify wider progress.

Ukraine handed over 246 prisoners that it had in its custody in exchange for 74 prisoners who were being held by separatist forces.

"It was a very exhausting and professional struggle for everyone", said Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.

Numerous captives are not combatants; some were activists and bloggers who were charged with spying or treason.

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Relatives and friend of the Ukrainian prisoners held by the rebels hold a Ukrainian National flag as they wait them at the Kiev's airport in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

The conversation was Putin's first official contact with the heads of the breakaway republics, and came about at the urging of Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian business tycoon and politician who is close to the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, Zakharchenko said he had issued a pardon of prisoners. Pasechnik announced he had also signed a pardon on Wednesday. Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have since reported hundreds of ceasefire violations, and at least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past week.

The largest prior prisoner exchange was in 2014, when the conflict between authorities Kiev and anti-government separatists began. There were further incidents since then.

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian Federation of sending troops and weapons across the border. A number of similar ceasefires have failed to take hold since the start of the conflict.

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