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Kiev swapping detained civilians for Ukrainian servicemen — reports

September 25, 2014, 10:01 UTC+3 NEW YORK
The prisoner exchanges are taking place daily in eastern Ukraine in line with the September 5 ceasefire agreement signed during the OSCE-mediated talks in Belarusian capital Minsk
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© AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

NEW YORK, September 25. /ITAR-TASS/. Lacking enough prisoners of war among self-defense militias to be exchanged for Ukrainian servicemen, Kiev is releasing mixed groups of civilians who have been taken hostage for various reasons, The New York Times has reported.

The prisoner exchanges are taking place daily in eastern Ukraine in line with the September 5 ceasefire agreement signed during the OSCE-mediated talks in Belarusian capital Minsk.

On Sunday, each side freed 28 captives, observing a principle of numerical parity.

However, if militias release people appearing to be actual prisoners of war captured during the fighting in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian side often frees civilians, including teenagers, according to the report, released on Wednesday.

“The Ukrainians, however, widely understood to be lacking enough prisoners of their own to effect a one-for-one exchange, set free a motley group of men, women and teenagers wearing tracksuits or dirty jeans, and taken, they said, from jails as far away as Kiev,” the report says.

Many of them “were objecting to anybody who would listen there on the highway that they had never fought for” militias and in fact “had no idea how they ended up in a prisoner exchange in eastern Ukraine.”

A dozen men freed in exchanges over the weekend by the Ukrainian Army “gave similar accounts.”

Some people said they were arrested months ago in other parts of the country for such political actions “as joining protests calling for autonomy in eastern Ukraine or for distributing leaflets.”

One of the freed detainees, Nikita Podikov, 17, said in an interview that he was arrested by Ukrainian soldiers in a town near the frontlines two weeks ago when they were retreating.

“I am a civilian and I was included just to fill out the numbers,” Podikov said, adding that authorities accused him of belonging to a gang of “assassins working behind enemy lines” but never gave any proof.

“They arrested me, beat me for two days and then kept me for trading,” he said, adding: “I never fought, I never killed anybody.”

On Sunday, the teenager wound up in a prisoner swap of 27 men and one woman, only seven of whom were militia members.

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