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Russia-Backed Separatists Pardon Prisoners In Step Toward Planned Swap With Ukraine

Ukrainian separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko (file photo)

The leader of Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk has pardoned 74 Ukrainian prisoners as part of a major prisoner exchange that will take place between the two sides of the conflict on December 27.

Separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko said on December 26 that the swap, which also involves Ukraine handing over 306 people it has captured in the conflict, is only the first stage of possible further moves to exchange prisoners with more lists being compiled.

"The exchange will take place at 1 p.m. [local time] tomorrow [December 27]," Zakharchenko told reporters in Donetsk.

"The exchange will happen without any hindrance from the DPR or LPR [separatist-controlled areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions]," he said, adding that the prisoner swap was in its "first stage."

If the exchange is carried out, it will the first one in 14 months.

Fighting between Kyiv's forces and the Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.

At a meeting in Minsk on December 20, representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the separatists, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that they had agreed on a holiday cease-fire starting at midnight on December 23.

The cease-fire was agreed "in connection with the forthcoming Christmas and New Year festivities" and existing agreements and obligations, said an OSCE statement.

However, on December 25, both sides in the conflict made claims accusing each other of violating the cease-fire agreement.

Several cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords -- September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed at resolving the conflict -- have failed to hold.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and
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