Russia, Ukraine complete prisoner exchange

Ukraine’s Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War noted that 36 returnees had “injuries or serious illnesses.”…reports Asian Lite News

Russia and Ukraine have conducted a significant exchange of prisoners, marking the 50th such swap since the onset of the two-year-long conflict, The New York Times (NYT) reported.

The move follows last week’s plane crash in Russia’s Belgorod region, near the Ukrainian border, with Moscow accusing Kyiv of downing a military transport carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war destined for exchange.

While the cause of the crash remains unknown, Ukrainian officials did not take any responsibility, calling for an international investigation. The incident has escalated concerns about the impact on diplomatic channels between the nations and the fate of the captured individuals. But the process of exchanging prisoners, while slowed down at times, has continued even during the most trying moments of a war that has stretched on for nearly two years, NYT reported.

Wednesday’s exchange marked the 50th swap between Ukraine and Russia since the commencement of the conflict, resulting in over 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians returning home, as per Ukrainian authorities. While Russia has not officially revealed the total figure, its officials have acknowledged the return of a minimum of 1,200 soldiers, according to official statements.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine announced the exchange on social media, confirming the return of 207 soldiers and civilians ranging from 20 to 61 years old.

Zelenskyy said, “We return in spite of everything. We remember each and every captive.”

Ukraine’s Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War noted that 36 returnees had “injuries or serious illnesses.”

Russia’s Defence Ministry reported the return of 195 soldiers and acknowledged the role of the United Arab Emirates in facilitating the deal. The discrepancy in the number of returnees between Russia and Ukraine was not immediately explained.

The ties between Russia and the UAE have grown closer in recent years, with Russian President Vladimir Putin making a high-profile visit to the country’s capital, Abu Dhabi, in December last year.

Despite the exchange, the mystery surrounding the downed Russian airplane and the alleged presence of Ukrainian prisoners persisted. Ukrainian media reported that those returned were not on the list of 65 prisoners Russia claimed were killed in the crash.

Both nations have not yet provided evidence regarding the crash, using the incident to highlight malign intent on the other side. Russian President Putin claimed that Russian investigators determined the plane was shot down using the American Patriot air defence system, as reported by NYT.

However, neither side has presented visual evidence of the bodies of Ukrainian prisoners, leaving unanswered questions about the incident.

Following the plane crash, Ukraine intensified its offensives within Russian territory, openly admitting to targeting military installations. In response, Ukraine claimed the authority to down Russian military planes in the border region, asserting that Russia did not provide prior notification about a plane transporting prisoners in the area. However, Ukraine has refrained from acknowledging responsibility for the plane’s downing. In contrast, Russia contends that Ukraine had been informed about the flight.

Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukrainian military intelligence, raised doubts about Russia’s handling of the situation, questioning why, if the crash occurred as claimed, Russia hid the bodies and failed to present them to the world.

Budanov emphasised, “There are no bodies — there is nothing,” NYT reported. (ANI)

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