Ukraine, eastern rebels swap prisoners for first time in over a year

World Today

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, greets one of the prisoners who was released by separatists in the town of Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Ukrainian authorities and separatist rebels in the country’s east have conducted a massive exchange of prisoners, the largest ever trade of captives since the start of the conflict. (Mikhail Palinchak, Presidential Press Service Pool Photo via AP)

Amid fresh reports of fighting in eastern Ukraine, the largest prisoner exchange of the conflict has taken place between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist rebels. It’s a deal that has taken more than a year to materialize under considerable pressure from Moscow.

CGTN’s Daria Bondarchuk reports.

The first phase of the large-scale prisoner exchange was conducted at a checkpoint near the city of Horlivka in the Donetsk region.

It’s the first swap of prisoners between the rival sides of the Ukrainian civil conflict in 15 months.

The exchange is part of the so-called “Minsk agreement,” a settlement roadmap signed in 2015 between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia, France, Germany and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were guarantors of the deal.

The largest prior prisoner exchange was in 2014, when the conflict between authorities Kiev and anti-government separatists began. The UN says more than 10,000 people have died as a result.

The Minsk peace agreement also includes implementation of political reforms and local elections, but it’s unclear whether the opposing sides are ready to address those issues. A ceasefire, part of the conditions set by the deal, was declared in September, but it has been violated multiple times by both sides.

Last week, the signatories recommitted to the ceasefire, only for it to be broken within days. A Ukrainian soldier was shot on Saturday.

Additionally, the U.S. has agreed to send lethal weapons to Kiev, a decision Russia strongly opposes, accusing the U.S. of fueling new bloodshed in Ukraine.