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Ukraine denies prisoner swap with Russia completed, says negotiations ongoing

Oleg Sentsov, Ukrainian political prisoner in Russia (Antonymon/WikiCommons)

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

Ukraine says negotiations to exchange prisoners with Russia are still under way after earlier unconfirmed reports said the swap had already been completed.

The Facebook post by the spokeswoman of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on August 30 comes after relatives of one of the 24 sailors being held by Russia told RFE/RL’s Crimean Desk that they all had been freed.

Those remarks came after Ukraine’s prosecutor-general reposted comments from a Ukrainian parliament member saying Ukraine and Russia had carried out a swap of prisoners, including Ukrainian sailors captured by Russian forces last year and Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov.

Anticipation had been growing for such a swap after Russian media reported on August 29 that Sentsov — whose imprisonment has been criticized by Kyiv, Western governments, and human rights groups — had been moved from a remote prison in Russia’s Arctic region to a facility in Moscow.

Sentsov has been imprisoned in Russia since opposing Moscow’s takeover of his native Crimea in March 2014.

The Kommersant newspaper cited sources close to Zelenskiy as saying that the exchange could take place by the end of August and that the Ukrainians set to be transferred to Kyiv could include at least some of the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian forces in November near the Kerch Strait close to Russia-annexed Crimea.

Kyiv has said that Russia illegally holds about 150 Ukrainian nationals on its territory. Ukrainian officials mentioned that figure when talking about the list of prisoners prepared for possible exchange by the two countries’ ombudswomen in July.

The list of Russian citizens set for the swap has never been made public.

Reports about Sentsov’s transfer to Moscow come a day after a court in Ukraine ordered jailed Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky to be freed on his own recognizance and released from custody before his trial on treason charges.