Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels swap prisoners

Ukraine crisis: Prisoner exchange begins

Among those released were journalists, bloggers and activists who had been accused of spying or treason.

Seventy-three Ukrainians, who have been held in the areas outside Kyiv's control, were freed during the exchange of captives in Donbas on Wednesday, Verkhovna Rada First Deputy Speaker Iryna Gerashchenko, who represents Ukraine in the Trilateral Contact Group's humanitarian subgroup, has said.

The prisoner exchange, which involved officials on both sides working around the clock for days to agree a list of names and legal framework for the swap, offers some optimism for hopes of progress on a workable peace deal.

The prisoner swap was confirmed on Monday when Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, met with pro-Russia separatist leaders at Moscow's Danilovsky monastery. Although the Kremlin insists the Russian army is not in eastern Ukraine, global observers say Russian soldiers and military hardware are involved in fighting in the region.

More people are expected to be exchanged in another location later Wednesday. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk's daughter.

The exact number of prisoners exchanged is uncertain.

The swap comes after a recommitment to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where over 10,000 people have been killed.

The prisoner swap is a key part of the Minsk ceasefire agreement created to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed some 10,000 people.

Following the ceasefire recommitment, Ertugrul Apakan, chief monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, said in a statement, "There is an opportunity to end the violence and human suffering, allowing people to resume their normal everyday lives, especially over the holiday season".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes the exchange in a joint statement and called on both sides to release the remaining captives. Although the state department did not specify what weaponry it was sending, reports said Kiev would receive American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles.

But local news agencies said some of those agreed to be exchanged by Kiev refused to travel to the occupied territory, and only 246 people ultimately travelled east across the war's no man's land.

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