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Three Russians Held In Ukraine Preparing For Swap, Lawyer Says

Russian citizen Maksim Odintsov (left) in a Kyiv court in 2017
Russian citizen Maksim Odintsov (left) in a Kyiv court in 2017

Three Russian citizens held in Ukraine are getting ready for a prisoner swap, their lawyer said amid reports that Russia plans to hand over to Kyiv dozens of jailed Ukrainians.

Valentin Rybin told the TASS news agency on August 22 that his clients Aleksandr Baranov, Maksim Odintsov, and Yevgeny Mefyodov are currently going through judicial procedures in preparation for the exchange "in the nearest future."

Baranov and Odintsov, once soldiers of the Ukrainian Army in Crimea, changed sides after Moscow seized the peninsula in 2014.

They were found guilty of high treason and desertion in February and sentenced to 13 and 14 years in prison, respectively.

Mefyodov is charged with separatism over a deadly standoff between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian activists in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa in 2014.

Their lawyer's statement comes a day after some Russian media reports cited sources saying that many Ukrainians held in Russia will be exchanged for Russians held in Ukraine.

The Kommersant newspaper reported on August 21 that the exchange could take place by the end of August and among the Ukrainians set to be transferred to Kyiv there will be 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian forces in November near the Kerch Strait close to Russia-annexed Crimea.

However, on August 21, a court in Moscow upheld the pretrial detention for 13 of the 24 Ukrainian sailors until October 26.

Also on August 21, media reports in Russia said five Ukrainian nationals jailed in Russia may be handed over to Kyiv to serve the rest of their sentences at home.

The Moscow-based Memorial human rights center said the previous day that five Ukrainians held in Russia -- Volodymyr Balukh, Stanislav Klykh, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Pavlo Hryb, and Mykola Karpyuk, had been transferred from labor camps in several different regions to the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow.

Kyiv has said that Russia is illegally holding about 150 Ukrainian nationals on its territory.

Ukrainian officials mentioned that figure when talking about the list of prisoners prepared for a possible exchange by the two countries' ombudswomen in July. One of the most prominent Ukrainians on the list is film director Oleh Sentsov.

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

The United States and the European Union have called on Russia to free dozens of Ukrainian citizens imprisoned in Russia, Moscow-annexed Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

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

Moscow is also backing separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed some 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

With reporting By Interfax and Kommersant

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