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Ukraine's Ombudswoman: Russia Still Holds Over 100 Crimean Tatars, Other Ukrainians


Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova (file photo)
Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova (file photo)

KYIV -- Ukrainian and Russian officials are discussing the possible "liberation" of 113 Ukrainian nationals jailed in Russia, according to Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova.

In a televised interview aired on September 10, Denisova said that she was not sure when exactly the 113 Ukrainian citizens -- including 89 Crimean Tatars -- would be released and returned to Ukraine, but she expressed hope it would happen by the end of the year.

Russia and Ukraine exchanged a total of 70 prisoners on September 7 in a move praised by the West as an opportunity to improve tense relations between Kyiv and Moscow.

The 35 Ukrainian citizens returned to Ukraine included only one Crimean Tatar activist, Edem Bekirov. His lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, told RFE/RL that his client was released due to his extremely poor health.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told an RFE/RL correspondent on September 7 that the Ukrainians remaining in Russian custody would be liberated during what he called "the second stage of the prisoners' swap."

"We are not talking about a year, two, or three years. We want to do it as soon as possible," Zelenskiy said.

Refat Chubarov, the chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Mejlis, alleged that Russia is trying to exclude Crimean Tatars from any prisoner swap in order to "cut off everything linked to the annexation of Crimea."

The U.S.-based human rights group Freedom House called on Russia to "immediately" release the remaining prisoners in a September 9 statement.

"Russia and Russian-backed forces in Donbas and Crimea should immediately release all remaining political prisoners and stop the politically motivated persecution of civic activists, journalists, peaceful believers in Islam, and others who have been subjected to trumped-up charges and show trials," the rights group said.

Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries.

The Russian-imposed authorities in the Black Sea peninsula have since prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars on various charges.

Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have come out against Moscow's takeover of the region.

Moscow also backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

With reporting by 1+1 TV