The Ukrainian government and separatist rebels on Wednesday carried out the largest prisoner exchange since the Donbass conflict began during the first months of 2014.
The exchange of prisoners in general was crafted as one of the points in the Minsk peace agreement that was signed in February 2015, but has not been carried out in full since then, with analysts says the release doesn’t signify a wider improvement in relations.
Kyiv is giving up over 260 individuals back to the rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk regions, together known as the Donbass, with the pro-Russian separatists handing over some 70 prisoners to the federal government.
The swap utilizes buses among other vehicles that gathered at Mayorsk checkpoint near Horlivka in the eastern Donetsk region.
However, not all prisoners released by Kyiv wanted to leave the government-controlled central and western regions.
Red Cross spokesman Miladin Bogetic told the BBC that, even though charges have been dropped and they’ve been released, some former government prisoners “prefer to stay in the government-controlled side.”
It is unclear exactly why they are choosing to stay.
European Council on Foreign Relations Co-Chair Carl Bildt tweeted from the site of the exchange, describing the negotiated swap as “long-awaited”.
For a majority of fall 2017, negotiations that involved Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin brought about the exchange, along with the European Union and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The eastern Ukraine conflict sparked on April 6, 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea in the months before, an action the international community largely considers illegal, including Canada.
Multiple ceasefires were put in place between the eastern separatists who wish to join the Russian state and the federal government in Kyiv.
Right now, fighting has largely calmed with monitors describing a current status of a stalemate. Meanwhile, in Crimea, Russian has established a stronghold on culture and a military presence.
Ukraine used to be part of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and Crimea was transferred from USSR control to Ukrainian regional control in 1954.
Putin defended support for sepratists as “defending the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass”.
More details to follow. Image 1 of the prisoner exchange in Ukraine from Reuters.