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Ukraine, separatist rebels agree on major prisoner…

28 December 2017

"Nothing is more important than to bring our people home", said Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko.

The prisoner exchange, which involved officials on both sides working around the clock for days to agree a list of names and legal framework for the swap, offers some optimism for hopes of progress on a workable peace deal.

The swap was confirmed on Monday when the head of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, met with pro-Russia separatist leaders at Moscow's Danilovsky monastery.

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Putin said on Tuesday that Russian Federation meant to draft a UN Security Council resolution to this end, saying it would help resolve the problem in eastern Ukraine, though he also said preconditions would have to be met before any deployment. Ukraine handed over 246 prisoners in exchange for 74 people who had been taken captive by separatist forces. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk's daughter.

The warring parties signed the Minsk cease-fire agreement in February 2015, with the mediation of France and Germany, but the fighting continued, claiming more than 10,000 lives, according to the UN.

A prisoner waves during the exchange.

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Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions have been mired in conflict since separatists declared their independence from Kiev in spring 2014, shortly after Russia's controversial annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have since reported hundreds of ceasefire violations, and at least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past week.

There was no immediate comment from the authorities in Moscow, which Ukraine and its Western allies accuse of supporting the pro-Russian separatists with troops, cash and heavy weapons, an accusation Moscow denies.

The President of Ukraine, Petred Poroshenko, who described as "sudden and provocative" Russian decision to withdraw its officers from joint centre, said last week that it would reinforce military contingent in east of country in face of threat of an escalation in Clashes with Russian.

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