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Ukraine, Russia-Backed Separatists Hold Another Prisoner Swap


Medical workers are seen during the exchange of prisoners of war between Ukraine and the separatists near the Mayorsk crossing point in the Donetsk region on April 16.

KYIV -- Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists have exchanged a total of 34 prisoners ahead of Orthodox Easter celebrations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office said on April 16 that 20 Ukrainians who were in the custody of the separatists were returned to Kyiv.

The separatists said 14 people were handed to them by Kyiv authorities.

The Ukrainian and Russian sides in the so-called Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) said last week that they had agreed on to hold the swap before Orthodox Easter on April 19.

Heidi Grau, special representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office in Ukraine and in the TCG Group, hailed the move in a statement, expressing hope that "it will contribute to strengthening trust between the sides."

Ukraine's relationship with Russia has been tense ever since protests in Kyiv led to the overthrow of pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula shortly thereafter and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, sparking a war in the eastern region known as the Donbas that has resulted in some 13,200 deaths. That war continues to this day.

Zelenskiy, who was elected last year on promises of ending the conflict in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, had already overseen two prisoner exchanges.

In September, Russia and Ukraine each exchanged 35 prisoners. In December, Ukraine turned over 124 prisoners to the separatists in exchange for 76 Ukrainians they held.

The latest prisoner swap comes as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in March called on warring parties in conflicts around the world to halt fighting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With reporting by Ukrayinska Pravda, UNIAN, Interfax, and TASS