Russian Orthodox patriarch announces prisoner swap deal in Ukraine

Russian Orthodox patriarch announces prisoner swap deal in Ukraine

More than a dozen Ukrainian soldiers held by pro-Russian separatists have been released as part of a prisoner exchange.

Under the terms of the deal, Kiev will hand over 306 prisoners to the rebels and receive 74 prisoners in return, according to the report.

Separatist leaders and a Ukrainian government representative agreed to the exchange last week, with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church acting as mediator.

The Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the exchange of 74 Ukrainian hostages through his Facebook account.

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By day's end, the Ukrainian government will carry out a prisoner swap with the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic. The war between the two sides has killed more than 10,000 people in three years.

Eastern Ukraine has been the site of clashes between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia militias since 2014, when Ukraine's Moscow-aligned president was ousted by protesters in Kiev.In response, Russian Federation quickly annexed Crimea away from Ukraine, a step that most nations have refused to recognize as legitimate.

The exact number of prisoners exchanged is uncertain.

On Tuesday, Poroshenko met with the relatives of the hostages, saying: "Nothing is more important than to return our people home", according to a presidential statement.

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But it comes amid a recent intensification of the conflict, which Kiev says began when Russian Federation fomented a proxy war in the country after Moscow's 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea.

"I hope that the upcoming prisoner exchange that will begin the process - because not all of those remaining in captivity for a while have been included in the lists - but I express my ardent hope that this first stage will entail further efforts to release those imprisoned", Kirill added.

The Minsk agreements, which have never been fully implemented, were brokered in early 2015 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.

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