Russia, Ukraine swap 35 prisoners in step toward normalizing relations

Russia and Ukraine exchanged 35 prisoners each Saturday in what Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said he hoped would be the first step toward reopening dialogue with Russia.

Relatives welcome Ukrainian prisoners after their plane landed in Boryspil International Airport near of Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday. Photo by Sergey Dolzhenko

Planes landed nearly simultaneously in Kiev and Moscow, each loaded with prisoners returning home. Among the Ukrainian prisoners were 24 soldiers Russia detained after seizing three ships in the Kerch Strait in November.

The Ukrainian prisoners arrived at Boryspil International Airport and the Russian prisoners came to Vnukovo Airport.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the swap was “a good step” toward normalizing relations between the two countries after the 2014 fighting that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Zelensky said the two leaders finalized negotiations for the swap Saturday. Discussions began in May after Zelensky’s election.

“We have agreed on the first stage of resuming our dialogue and ending the the war,” Zelensky said, adding that he hopes Ukraine would “get back not only people but territories as well.”

Defusing tensions with Russia was one of Zelensky’s campaign promises. Meanwhile, Putin is likely viewing the prisoner swap as a way to ease discord with Europe, which placed sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea.

President Donald Trump applauded the prisoner swap with a post on Twitter.

“Russia and Ukraine just swapped large numbers of prisoners. Very good news, perhaps a first giant step to peace. Congratulations to both countries!” he wrote.

ByDanielle Haynes