Ukraine: hundreds released in massive prisoner exchange

2014-12-29 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has met some of hundreds of freed prisoners, who were exchanged with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country. Buses hoisting Ukrainian flags drove them home in time for the New Year.  

At least 145 captured Ukrainian government soldiers and 222 detained pro-Russian rebels have been exchanged between the warring factions in eastern Ukraine. 

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

Some of the returning troops arrived at the military airport near the capital Kiev where they were welcomed by Poroshenko. "As president and as an ordinary citizen my heart is full of joy," he told them. 

"As promised you’ll be able to celebrate New Year with your families and military friends. That’s what we’ve been waiting for so long. 
Thank you very much. Long live Ukraine. Long live the heroes,” Poroshenko added. 

PEACE TALKS

The exchange followed peace talks between Ukraine, Russia, the separatists and Europe's security organization OSCE in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Wednesday.

Another round of negotiations due to take place on Friday was cancelled amid mounting tensions between Kiev and Moscow.

Russia has been angered by the Ukrainian Parliament's decision to cancel the country's neutral status, opening the door to membership of the NATO military alliance

At the same Kiev accuses Moscow of supporting pro-Russian separatists in the east with weapons and troops. 

CRIMEAN TENSIONS 

Additionally Ukrainian authorities say they will never accept what they view as Russia's occupation of the Crimean Peninsula which Moscow annexed in March.

Ukraine has frozen bus and rail links with Crimea and also cut electricity supplies.

And the United States effectively forced the world’s two largest debit and credit card companies, Visa and Mastercard, to halt their card services in Crimea.  

Pope Francis has urged all sides to seek peace as the nine-month conflict in especially eastern Ukraine has now killed more than 4,700 people while hundreds of thousands of residents, including Greek Catholic and other minorities, have been displaced as winter sets in. 

(from Vatican Radio)