Pro-Russian separatists release 8 more Ukrainian prisoners

Ukraine’s security service says pro-Russian separatists have released four more Ukrainian prisoners as part of a major prisoner swap.

A Ukrainian statement said the four released Saturday included three civilians and a member of the Ukrainian military.

Separately, Russia’s Interfax news agency is reporting that separatists released three Ukrainian servicemen and one civilian on Saturday without an exchange for rebels.

The releases bring to 154 the number of Ukrainians who have been freed in the past two days.

On Friday, 146 Ukrainian servicemen were released in exchange for 222 rebel captives in the largest prisoner swap since separatists launched their uprising in April.

“As a president and as an ordinary citizen my heart is full with joy. As I have promised, you will be able to celebrate New Year with your families and military friends,” said Poroshenko. “That is what you and we have been waiting for so long. Thank you very much.”

Some of the prisoners voiced relief and happeness.

“It is pleasant that the president has met us. I am grateful for what was done to give us freedom and we hope that our comrades who are still captive, all eleven of them, will be soon set free,” said Manuev Genadiy, former prisoner, member of Donbas battalion.

Another prisoner, Anna, said the Ukrainian military picked her up at a checkpoint.

“I came to visit my brother and they picked me up at a checkpoint,” said Anna, resident of nearby Mariupol. “I ended up at the airport (near Mariupol) where they tortured me. Then, there was a detention center. By the way, today is one month since my imprisonment.”

A pro-Russian prisoner said he was treated like common criminals. “The court didn’t even make an attempt to listen to us. When we tried to explain something, whatever we said fell on deaf ears,” said Denis Balbukhov, pro-Russia prisoner released.

Friday’s exchange, shown on Russian television, was to have taken place earlier in the week.  But last-minute discord at truce talks held in Belarus forced the brief postponement and the indefinite suspension of a second day of negotiations that were to have taken place Friday.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March came just weeks after huge protests in Kyiv forced Ukraine’s Moscow-backed former president Viktor Yanukovych from office.  Rebels launched their rebellion near the Russian border less than a month later.

The fighting has claimed more than 4,700 lives, including 1,300 fatalities since a truce agreed on in September fell apart before it could be fully implemented.


(Map of Crimea. Source: UN Cartographic Section, DFS)