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Reports of Ukrainian prisoners flying home, but Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap ‘incomplete’, Kiev says

Reports of Ukrainian prisoners flying home, but Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap ‘incomplete’, Kiev says
A plane carrying Ukrainian sailors, a filmmaker, and other former prisoners held by Moscow on terrorism and other charges is reportedly heading to Kiev, as officials confirmed that the high-profile swap is “ongoing.”

The “mutual release of prisoners is [still] ongoing,” the Ukrainian president’s office said. The spokesperson for the Security Service of Ukraine, Elena Hitlyanskaya, also confirmed the “complicated” talks about a prisoner swap, but said the actual exchange has not happened yet.

Russian and Ukrainian media reported earlier that a plane carrying high-profile Ukrainian nationals who were held by Moscow and slated for a potential swap was about to land in Kiev sometime on Friday morning. News crews rushed to Zhuliany Airport in anticipation of the aircraft, and some Ukrainian politicians were also spotted there.

Earlier that day, Ukraine’s newly-appointed prosecutor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, reposted a Facebook post by a parliamentary staffer who claimed that the prisoner exchange was “complete.” However, Ukrainian officials later denied the claim.

The post, shared by Ryaboshapka, named several people who were reportedly put up for exchange and flown to Kiev. They include filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges, and Ukrainian sailors who were detained by the Russian Coast Guard in November and charged with violating the nation’s maritime border.

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The prisoner exchange was the top item on the agenda during the first telephone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky in July. Although little was known about the terms and conditions of the impending swap, it was reported at the time that it would include Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, the head of RIA Novosti Ukraine, who was charged with treason by Kiev.

The journalist was freed from a Ukrainian prison earlier this week on “personal recognizance,” with his release apparently paving the way for the release of Ukrainian nationals.

Moscow has not confirmed the exchange. The officials, though tight-lipped about swapping prisoners with Ukraine, have confirmed in the past that such a swap is possible. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week that Russia remains “in contact” with the Ukrainians while discussing this issue.

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