MOSCOW, December 29. /TASS/. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has welcomed the exchange of prisoners and detainees that took place in eastern Ukraine on December 27, and urged the parties to the conflict in the Donbass region to take further steps to enhance mutual trust and uphold the ceasefire agreement, Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric said in a statement released on the UN website.
Earlier this week Kiev and the Donbass republics conducted a prisoner exchange, the biggest since the outbreak of the conflict. The swap took place at the contact line near Gorlovka. Kiev released 233 prisoners and the Donbass republics - 73.
Guterres "welcomes the exchange of prisoners and detainees and commends all those who brought this to fruition," and "hopes that this humanitarian act could serve as a positive step towards strengthening the confidence among the sides and urges all parties to take further measures in this spirit, including by fully respecting and upholding the ceasefire agreement and continuing to work together to fulfil all of their commitments under the Minsk agreements," spokesman was quoted as saying.
In mid-November, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Choice public movement and Kiev’s representative to the humanitarian subgroup of the Contact Group, who asked the Russian leader to support his initiative concerning the prisoner swap. He said Ukraine was ready to release 306 people and expected Donetsk and Lugansk to release 74 people before the New Year holidays.
Both sides stressed that overall prisoner exchange is not completely over at this stage and pledged to spare no effort to have all the prisoners return home in 2018. According to the human rights ombudswoman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Darya Morozova, at the next meeting of the Contact Group on January 18 DPR’s negotiators will insist Kiev release 76 more prisoners at the second stage. Earlier she told TASS Kiev had confirmed its keeping 58 people the DPR wanted to have back home. Representatives of the parties also said earlier that detainees’ release would not be fully completed at this stage. According to Medvedchuk, the second stage of the exchange is due to be held in 2018, during which it is planned to release all those who were captured earlier.
All-for-all prisoner exchanges are one of the key provisions of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on February 12, 2015, after marathon talks between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. However, no prisoner swaps have been held over the past 14 months.