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Ukrainian President Denies Prisoner Swap With Russia Completed, Says Negotiations Ongoing


Sailors of Ukrainian naval ships, which were seized by Russia in November 2018, attend a court hearing in Moscow earlier this month.
Sailors of Ukrainian naval ships, which were seized by Russia in November 2018, attend a court hearing in Moscow earlier this month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says that negotiations to exchange prisoners with Russia are continuing despite earlier unconfirmed reports that a swap had been completed.

"The process of the mutual release of individuals held is in progress," the Ukrainian presidential office said in a post on its official Facebook page on August 30.

"Information about its completion does not correspond to reality," it added.

The post described reports to the contrary as "disinformation" and said that when a prisoner exchange is completed, "the president's office will announce it on official channels."

The post came after relatives of one of the 24 sailors being held by Russia told RFE/RL's Crimean Desk that they all had been freed.

That claim came after Ukraine's prosecutor-general reposted comments from a Ukrainian parliament member saying Ukraine and Russia had carried out a swap of prisoners, including Ukrainian sailors captured by Russian forces last year and Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov.

Russian foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov told journalists in Moscow on August 30 that negotiations regarding a possible prisoner exchange are "taking place behind closed doors, but I can confirm that there is some progress," according to Interfax.

Anticipation had been growing for such a swap after Russian media reported on August 29 that Sentsov -- whose imprisonment has been criticized by Kyiv, Western governments, and human rights groups -- had been moved from a remote prison in Russia’s Arctic region to a facility in Moscow.

Sentsov has been imprisoned in Russia since opposing Moscow's takeover of his native Crimea in March 2014.

On August 30, two Ukrainian opposition politicians said they had met with two imprisoned Ukrainian nationals in Russia. Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the Opposition Platform-For Life and one of the two representatives from the party to travel to Moscow at the request of relatives of jailed Ukrainians, told the television channel 112 Ukraina that they had met with Stanislav Kykh and Mykoa Karpyuk and were seeking their release, which he said was a long-term effort. He noted that the issue of negotiating any exchange was up to government authorities.

Kykh and Karpyuk are among five Ukrainians that the Moscow-based Memorial human rights center on August 20 said had been transferred from labor camps in several different regions to the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow.

The Kommersant newspaper has cited sources close to Zelenskiy as saying that a broad prisoner exchange could take place by the end of August and that the Ukrainians set to be transferred to Kyiv could include at least some of the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian forces in November near the Kerch Strait close to Russia-annexed Crimea.

Kyiv has said that Russia illegally holds about 150 Ukrainian nationals on its territory. Ukrainian officials mentioned that figure when talking about the list of prisoners prepared for possible exchange by the two countries' ombudswomen in July.

The list of Russian citizens set for the swap has never been made public.

Reports about Sentsov’s transfer to Moscow come a day after a court in Ukraine ordered jailed Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky to be freed on his own recognizance and released from custody before his trial on treason charges.

With reporting by Reuters, Pravda-Ukraine, and Interfax
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