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Ukraine and Russia exchange prisoners


For the families of the prisoners, finally, the circle is closed: Russia and Ukraine exchanged prisoners on a large scale. The well-known director Oleh Senzow, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2014, is also free.

Women and children brought Ukrainian flags and flowers, some sing songs, some cry. Between the waiting is also the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Selenskyj. These are moving scenes that took place this morning on the runway of Boryspil Airport near Kiev - scenes that have a long history.

Gleb Garanich / REUTERS

Prisoner exchange: Russian plane at the Kiev airport Boryspil

The Ukrainian capital is the scene of a historic process: despite the extremely strained relationship between Ukraine and Russia, the two neighboring countries have now exchanged dozens of prisoners. These include the two dozen Ukrainian sailors who have been stuck in Russia for months.

Loud cheers burst when director Oleh Senzow leaves the plane via a small staircase: The filmmaker spent more than five years in Russian prisons since he was arrested in Crimea in May 2014. The Crimea is Senzov's homeland, but he opposed military annexation of the peninsula. In 2015, in a trial criticized by observers as a "show trial", he was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for "terrorism".

Massive international protests for the director, who is known even beyond the borders of Ukraine, remained fruitless at that time.

Сенцов, Кольченко та інші політв'язні повернулися в Україну - відео з аеропорту, де їх зустріли рідні

- hromadske (@HromadskeUA) September 7, 2019

Similar scenes took place simultaneously on the Russian side. A plane with Russian so far caught in Ukraine landed in Moscow.

Moscow and Kiev had negotiated at the initiative of Ukrainian President Selenskyj since the end of July on the exchange of prisoners to relax mutual relations - According to media reports, there had been about 35 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.

Vasily Maximov / AFP

Russian official next to prisoner transport in Moscow: A breakthrough?

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.

Source: spiegel

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