Kyiv, Separatists Work To Finalize Prisoner Lists Ahead Of Planned Swap

Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists were finalizing the list of the names of dozens prisoners from the fighting in eastern Ukraine who are scheduled to be swapped on December 29.

The Ukrainian side is expected to hand over 87 people, while the separatists are set to swap 55, the Unian news agency quoted a representative of Donetsk separatists saying.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy confirmed that a prisoner swap is “supposed to” take place on December 29, but he said the list of individuals to be handed over had not been finalized by December 28.

“There is supposed to be an exchange [of prisoners] tomorrow,” Zelenskiy told journalists during a visit to Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region for a bridge opening, according to his official website.

“We look forward to this. The verification of all people is not completed yet,” Zelenskiy added.

The exchange is expected to take place near the village of Gorlivka near Mayorsk, some 35 kilometers north of Donetsk, media reports say.

The notion of an “all-for-all” prisoner exchange gained momentum during peace talks in Paris on December 9 among the so-called Normandy Four — Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany — trying to bring an end to the five-year conflict.

If completed, it would be the second major prisoner exchange involving Ukrainians caught up in the conflict in four months.

In the last one, Russia and Ukraine traded a total of 70 prisoners in a move that many regarded as progress in efforts to deescalate a war that has killed more than 13,000 people since Moscow forcibly annexed Crimea and Russia-backed gunmen grabbed swaths of eastern Ukraine including parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014.

Russia insists it is not a party to the conflict, despite significant evidence that includes communication with separatist leaders, captured Russians, and Russian casualties in the fighting.

The move is not without controversy in Kyiv.

According to AFP, the government is expected to hand over to the rebels several riot policemen suspected of killing protesters during a pro-West uprising in 2014.

Families of the victims of the riot policemen wrote on Facebook in an open letter to Zelenskiy, warning that the release of the men could lead to a “wave of protests.”

“We would like to inform you that these people are neither participants nor victims of the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” they wrote.

The conflict in the region known as the Donbas is one of the biggest challenges Zelenskiy, who campaigned on a vow to end the conflict. He was inaugurated on May 20.

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia for its support of the separatists in eastern Ukraine and for the seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and UNIAN
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