Russia and Ukraine conduct prisoner swap, raising hopes for eased tensions

MOSCOW — Russia and Ukraine were conducting a major prisoner exchange Saturday in a move that raised hopes for eased tensions between the two countries, who have been at war since 2014.

Planes from each country departed airports in each other’s capitals early Saturday, according to flightradar data and Russian news agency Interfax.

Russian and Ukrainian media reported Friday that between 30 and 35 people from each side were expected to be exchanged.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the exchange would be “a good step” toward the normalization of relations between Moscow and Kiev.

Ukraine had been hoping to secure the release of dozens of prisoners, including 24 sailors who were detained by Russia in the Kerch Strait last November.

The sailors were accused by Russia of violating its border and have been kept in custody for nearly 10 months. Ukraine has insisted that the men should be treated as prisoners of war.

The highly-anticipated swap comes amid calls by President Donald Trump to re-admit Russia to the G-7 after it was kicked out of the group following the annexation of Crimea.

Five years of war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region have killed 13,000 people despite a ceasefire signed in 2015.

Reuters contributed.

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