Russia and Ukraine held a significant exchange of prisoners after long negotiations; while Ukraine witnessed the release of the prominent filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and others, Russia benefited most from the swap.
On the largest direct prisoner exchange between the two nations since 2014, Russia and Ukraine released 35 prisoners every Saturday. In fact, while Ukraine called the freed people “prisoners,” Russian legislation and state-owned media called them “detainees,” hundreds of prisoners have shared with the separatists of Donetsk and Luhansk from the outbreak of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Although less and fewer people have lately been released. One of the points decided in the peace agreement in Minsk is the release and exchange of inmates. In the end, all inmates on both sides have to be released. It states.
The exchange on Saturday marks a milestone in achieving this aim.
Most of the swap benefits Russia
Although 35 prisoners were exchanged for each side, it was never an equal exchange. While Ukrainian detainees were briefly detained before their release, they were allegedly kept in a Ukrainian sanatorium by the Russian counterparts. Some were even released by judges before the prisoner exchange. Only a dozen have Russian citizenship of those inmates transferred to Russia. The rest are Ukrainian citizens who have supported pro-Russian separatists.
An examination of who Russia released shows how different this trade is indeed: of the 35 people freed, 24 Ukrainian sailors who were held by the Russian coastguard in November 2018 while their ships tried to cross the Kerch Strait — even though in May, the Hamburg International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled that these sailors were to go through the Kerch Strait.
Did Tsemakh’s release get Russia on board?
The prisoner exchange preceded years of often fruitless negotiations. This summer, the negotiators accomplished a breakthrough following Ukraine’s presidential election, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Kyiv and Moscow observers stated that the increase of Zelenskiy made both Ukraine and Russia ready to compromise.
Some suspect, however, the readiness of Russia to reach an agreement may be linked to the surprising arrest by the Secret Service of Ukraine of Tsemakh deep in the rebel territory.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russian billionaire, and critics at the Kremlin informed Echo of Moscow that Russia is confident that Tsemakh was seeking to release Russia, in order to undermine the MH17 court case scheduled in the Netherlands next year. The 58-year-old Tsemakh was released soon before Saturday’s significant prisoner exchange and was held in Kyiv on allegations of terrorism.
Individuals released by Ukraine
Earlier, observers anticipated Russia willingly to see journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky released before it became known that Tsemakh was released. Born in Ukraine and now also a Russian citizen, the 52-year-old is the former head editor of RIA Novosti Ukraine, a Russian-run news agency based in Ukraine. Vyshinsky is accused by Ukraine of treason but has not gone to trial until now.
Only a few Russian citizens belong to the prisoner exchange. One of these is Victor Ageyev, who was armed in eastern Ukraine with separatists and caught in the Luhansk region.
The Ministry of Defense of Russia distanced itself from Algeyev by stating that the separatists are not fought by the Russian forces. According to the authorities in Ukraine, another Russian national who participated in the weekend swap took a role in 2014 Odesa conflicts in support of pro-Russian separatists.
Then there is the case of two people with dual Russian and Ukrainian nationality: the Maksim Odintsov and the Alexander Baranov. They both served as Ukrainian servicemen but, during the Kremlin annexation of Crimea, they were left to the Russian side. Later they were detained and convicted to long prison terms for desertion in southern Ukraine.
Prisoners Freed By Russia
Sentsov, 43 years old, is the leading figure released from Russian captivity. He was against Crimea’s Russian annexation. He was detained in Russia and convicted to 20 years behind terrorist bars.
Although Russia had earlier denied Sentsov’s release, it had demanded the release of senior western leaders and global campaigns to its advocates. Fellow activist Olexandr Kolchenko also released on comparable charges, who was convicted to ten years in prison.
Among the freedoms of Russia, too, were Ukrainian right-wing activists Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh. In the first Chechen war of the 1990s, they had been sentenced respectively to 22 and 20 years in prison for fighting alongside Chechen insurgents. Prominent Russian journalist Zoya Svetova has revealed that Klyakh was subjected to serious psychological trauma and torture during Russian captivity.
Roman Sushchenko, the Ukrainian journalist who was imprisoned for spying in Russia, was also liberated. His case was extensively reported in the press, such as the 20-year old Ukrainian student Pavlo Hryb detained in Belarus for supposedly terrorist promotion and imprisoned in Russia. Hryb has been released, too.