Ukraine, pro-Russia separatists conduct prisoner swap

Tim O'Donnell

The Ukrainian government began a prisoner exchange Sunday with pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

The self-declared Donetsk People's Republic agreed to return 55 prisoners to Kyiv, which in turn released 87 detainees to the separatists. The swap isn't considered a major step toward a peaceful solution to the 6-year old conflict, but it's still important for ensuring that other agreements between the two sides are eventually reached and should help improve relations between Ukraine and Russia, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Volodymr Fesenko, the director of the Kyiv-based independent think tank Penta Center for Political Studies, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky needed to get it done. "He wants to demonstrate concrete successful results — even small ones — in the development of the peace process in the Donbas," Fesenko said, referring to the disputed region of eastern Ukraine.

It's the second exchange between the two sides, following one in September that saw 24 Ukrainian sailors seized by Russia returned home. But not everyone in Ukraine was pleased with Sunday's developments; BBC News reports some activists opposed to the exchange blocked the exit at the prison holding pro-Russia detainees. They objected to the release of former members of the Berkut, the Ukrainian riot police accused of killing 48 people during pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2014. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and BBC.

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