Ukrainian forces and rebels exchange POWs as war grinds on

Ukrainian forces and rebels exchange POWs as war grinds on

The Ukrainian government and separatists reportedly backed by Russian Federation have carried out the largest prisoners swap to date, since violence erupted in the region in 2014.

The Office also expresses hope that all sides use this positive development to make progress on their remaining commitments under the Minsk Agreements, beginning with all sides adhering to the ceasefire; engaging cooperatively to reduce the humanitarian suffering of civilians on both sides of the line of contact; and Russian Federation withdrawing its weapons and personnel from eastern Ukraine.

"It was a very exhausting and professional struggle for everyone", said Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.

The prisoners, some of whom had been held for more than a year, were exchanged in the town of Horlivka and the village of Zaitseve with their belongings.

Journalists, activists and bloggers who had been accused of spying or treason were among those released. The Russian president then discussed the initiative with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Ukrainian republics over the phone.

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Alexander Zakharchenko, the head of the Kremlin-backed Donetsk People's Republic, said on Wednesday that more prisoners would be exchanged in the coming months.

"I'm out of hell, I have survived", said Yevhen Chudentsov, who served with one of Ukraine's volunteer battalions in the east and was taken prisoner in February 2015. "The last conditions were negotiated", he said, voicing hope that "the Ukrainian side will keep its promises".

The OSCE welcomed the swap and urged the two sides to build on the momentum.

More than 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million displaced in eastern Ukraine since fighting erupted there nearly four years ago. Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have since reported hundreds of ceasefire violations, and at least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past week. There were further incidents since then. Ukraine and its Western allies say the Russian government supports the pro-Russian separatists with troops, cash, and heavy weapons.

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