A high-profile prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine was underway on Saturday, officials from both countries confirmed.
Planes each carrying a reported 35 prisoners landed almost simultaneously at Vnukovo airport in Moscow and at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport.
In the Ukrainian capital, relatives of the prisoners were seen waving and applauding on the tarmac. President Volodymyr Zelensky greeted the prisoners as they stepped down the stairway.
Two Ukrainian presidency officials and Kremlin Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed the prisoner exchange.
Zelensky praised the swap as a “first step” towards ending the war. “We have to take all the steps to finish this horrible war,” he said, pledging to also return “our territory.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the release of the prisoners was a “sign of hope” and added that “it’s worth continuing the hard work to implement the Minsk Agreement.”
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, one of the confirmed prisoners released, said “I thank all the people who have fought for us.”
While most of the prisoners appeared to be in good physical condition one prisoner struggled down the steps with crutches while another had to be supported by the arms.
Thirty-five prisoners in total are reportedly being released by either side. Both Russia and Ukraine have been been tight lipped regarding the identities of the prisoners.
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