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Russian, Ukrainian officials discuss major prisoner swap

Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with security council members. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian and Ukrainian officials say they are holding talks on a major prisoner swap just days after their countries’ presidents discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine and a possible prisoner exchange in their first telephone call.

Russian envoy for human rights Tatyana Moskalkova held a rare meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart, Lyudmyla Denisova, in Kyiv on July 15 to discuss a swap involving the 24 Ukrainian sailors captured near the Kerch Strait last year, Russian news agencies reported.

Meanwhile, a court in Kyiv postponed a hearing that was expected to lead to the release of Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinskiy, who is in detention in Ukraine.

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office said it was likely that Vyshinsky, who has been in custody for a year facing treason charges, will be released.

Moskalkova was invited to attend the hearing in the afternoon on July 15, but the court abruptly adjourned it until July 18.

Moskalkova was quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti as saying that she was “completely disappointed by the fact that the hearing has been scrapped.”

Earlier on July 15, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin told Current Time TV that “there will be a development” in the much-anticipated prisoner exchange between the countries, but he declined to provide further details.

A possible prisoner swap was reportedly discussed during a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 11.

Zelenskiy, who took office in May, raised the issue of handing over the sailors captured by Russia, according to a statement on the Ukrainian president’s website.

Ukraine has been seeking the release of the sailors and ships since Russian forces seized them near the strait that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, after a covert occupation that Moscow repeatedly denied it was orchestrating.

Soon afterward, violence broke out between Russia-backed separatists and pro-Kyiv forces in eastern Ukraine in a conflict in which more than 13,000 people have died since April 2014, according to UN estimates.

Russia has denied involvement in the Ukrainian conflict despite considerable evidence that NATO and some Western governments say proves it has aided the separatists militarily and in other ways.