Ukraine, separatist rebels swap more than 300 prisoners ahead of New Year

The Kremlin has also continued to aid pro-Russia fighters in the eastern part of Ukraine, where ties to Russia are stronger.Nauert's statement also said Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program and to support negotiations toward a peaceful end to the ongoing civil war in Syria, where the US and Russia have supported opposing sides.

It is the first swap in 15 months.

The exchange of prisoners was being carried out at a checkpoint near Horlivka, a city in the eastern Donetsk region.

"The release of prisoners is a commitment which Ukraine, Russia and the Russian-backed separatists signed up to as part of the Minsk Agreements to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine", said the Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson. The Ukrainian state security service said 103 prisoners remained in separatist hands.

On Tuesday, Zakharchenko said he had issued a pardon of prisoners.

Numerous captives are not combatants; some were activists and bloggers who were charged with spying or treason.

Ukrainian forces and rebels exchange POWs as war grinds on
Ukraine, separatist rebels swap more than 300 prisoners ahead of New Year

The OSCE welcomed the swap and urged the two sides to build on the momentum from it.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised the Ukrainian prisoners held by the rebels for their endurance.

"I'm not guilty of anything and I don't want to go to the other side", he said.

Relatives and friend of the Ukrainian prisoners held by the rebels hold a Ukrainian National flag as they wait them at the Kiev's airport in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict and casualties are still reported nearly daily despite a ceasefire that froze the frontlines in place since 2015.

The United States said last week that it was sending lethal weapons to Kiev to help it fight pro-Russia separatist forces. "The exchange process is over", Ms Lutsenko said on Facebook. A truce signed in 2015 called for an exchange of all prisoners, but both sides are suspected to have detained dozens, and possibly hundreds, for use as bargaining tools.

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