As part of a major exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine, dozens of detainees have been handed over to the authorities of the other country. An aircraft with detainees left Moscow's Vnukovo Airport, according to the Interfax agency. In parallel, a Russian machine with prisoners started in Kiev, as the Ukrainian television showed.
Among the released Ukrainians are the film maker Oleg Senzov, who has been imprisoned in Russia for five years, as well as two dozen sailors who were arrested by Russian authorities in November 2018 in a serious incident off the Crimean peninsula. Her ship had been rammed and shelled before. (Here you can read more about it.)
The arrest of the 24 sailors had triggered another serious diplomatic crisis in the already difficult relations between the governments in Moscow and Kiev. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg ruled in May that Russia must immediately release the seafarers - which has not happened so far.
Vasily Maximov / AFP
Russian official next to prisoner transport in Moscow: A breakthrough?
Moscow and Kiev had negotiated at the initiative of the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj since the end of July on the exchange of prisoners to relax mutual relations - according to Russian and Ukrainian media, it should have gone to more than 30 prisoners.
The exchange seemed to start a week ago, but then was postponed again. Until recently, the names on the list were traded. While much has become known in Ukraine, little is known about the Russian prisoners to be exchanged.
A stir caused the name Vladimir Tsemach. The former commander of a pro-Russian air defense unit in Donetsk was unexpectedly released this week by a court in Kiev. He is considered an important eyewitness in the case of the passenger aircraft MH 17 shot down in July 2014. A Ukrainian special unit had kidnapped him in June in Donbass and brought to Kiev, where he was imprisoned. It is not clear if he is now on the list of prisoners exchanging.
Recently, President Selenskyj had pardoned several detainees for surrender to Russia. Just last week, a Ukrainian court also released pre-trial Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, accused of high treason.
Serhii Nuzhnenko / REUTERS
Freed: journalist Kirill Vyshinsky
Vyshinsky is head of Ukraine office of a state Russian news agency. The 52-year-old was arrested by the Ukrainian secret service in May 2018 because he allegedly justified in articles the Russian annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014.
According to media reports, Vyshinsky himself wanted to prove his innocence and therefore rejected an exchange - that had previously been considered by the Ukrainian President Selensky in exchange for the filmmaker Senzow.
Already on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin had made his first public statement on the exchange of prisoners. A large-scale exchange was planned, which meant "a large step towards the normalization" of the Russian relations with Ukraine.
The relationship between Kiev and Moscow has been extremely strained since the Crimea crisis in 2014 and the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Putin had repeatedly condemned the arrest of Vyshinsky. In 2015, he granted the journalist Russian citizenship by decree.