Ukraine, Russia exchange prisoners in move to improve ties

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov hugs his daughter upon his arrival at Boryspil airport outside Kyiv Ukraine. Planes carrying prisoners freed by Russia and Ukraine have landed in the countries' capitals in an exchange that could be a significant

"Up until" the prisoner exchange during which Kyiv and Moscow each swapped 35 prisoners, Dutch prosecutors "had done everything possible through judicial channels to keep Tsemakh available for the [MH17 Joint Investigative Team] investigation", Blok told the Dutch parliament.

Russia and Ukraine conducted a major prisoner exchange that freed 35 people detained in each country and flew them to the other, a deal that could help advance Russia-Ukraine relations and end five years of fighting in Ukraine's east.

Roman Sushchenko, who was jailed in Russia, is greeted by his relatives upon arrival in Kiev after Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap, at Borispil International Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine, on September 7, 2019.

Ukraine and the Netherlands had already questioned him, Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said.

Zelensky pledged to take all possible steps "to finish this frightful war" in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine, where violence has killed 13,000 people since 2014. "Ukraine has handed out 35 people to Russian Federation, we handed out the same number to Ukraine", she said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that Tsemakh had been questioned before being sent to Russian Federation.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, for her part, said: "This means that finally Oleg Sentsov, Pavlo Hryb, Edem Bekirov, the 24 captured Ukrainian sailors, and others whose release the European Union has called for so many times, are free and back in their country".

Speaking to reporters, Zelenskyy called the exchange of prisoners the first step in efforts to improve bilateral relations.

Russian-backed separatists continue to control a swathe of Ukraine's east in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

According to the statement, the two leaders also confirmed the intention to hold a Normandy Four summit on Ukrainian reconciliation in the coming weeks in Paris.

After landing in Kiev, the Ukrainian prisoners were seen greeting and hugging their emotional family members on the runway.

The commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Admiral Igor Voronchenko, broke into tears as he embraced one of the freed sailors.

MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Russian-made missile in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 people on board.

The release of Vladimir Tsemakh, an alleged air defence specialist for pro-Russian separatists, prompted concern from the Netherlands that he may avoid questioning.

Given the degree to which Moscow was allegedly adamant on getting Tsemakh "is yet another confirmation of Russia's involvement in the shoot-down of MH17", Bakanov said.

The US Embassy in Kyiv congratulated him.

It was a "sign of hope", German chancellor Angela Merkel, said.

Zelenskiy, who made peace between the two countries one of his key election promises when he ran for office earlier this year, said all steps had to be taken "to finish this terrible war".

Oleg Sentsov, a filmmaker convicted by Moscow in 2015 of planning "terrorist attacks" in Moscow-annexed Crimea and who was serving a 20-year jail sentence in Russian Federation. The 43-year-old was Ukraine's most famous political prisoner and the subject of a star-studded global campaign calling for his release.

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