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Finally Russia and Ukraine complete a highly anticipated prisoner exchange

Source: Meduza
Vasily Maksimov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

On the morning of September 7, Russia and Ukraine started preparations for a large-scale prisoner exchange. At roughly 9 a.m., two passenger buses left Moscow’s “Lefortovo” detention center for the Vnukovo International Airport, escorted by Federal Security Service and Highway Patrol cars. According to the news agency RIA Novosti, these buses contained Ukrainian prisoners. “VGTRK” Russian state media journalists later confirmed these reports in a live broadcast on Rossiya 24. According to the television station REN TV, buses carrying Russian prisoners also arrived at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv.

Around 9:30 a.m., a plane landed at Vnukovo Airport bearing Ukraine’s state symbol — presumably part of the Ukrainian presidential fleet. Around 10:30 a.m., a Tupolev Tu-204 in the Kremlin-operated “Rossiya” Special Flight Detachment landed at Boryspil Airport in Kyiv. According to the website FlightRadar, the Russian plane left Kyiv at 12:10 p.m., local time, just as the Ukrainian aircraft took off from Vnukovo.

Russia and Ukraine will each reportedly exchange 35 prisoners. Moscow is expected to hand over 24 Ukrainian sailors captured near the Kerch Strait in November 2018, as well as filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea. Kyiv will reportedly free RIA Novosti Ukraine editor-in-chief Kirill Vyshinsky, who faces treason charges, and Vladimir Tsemakh, who’s believed to be a key witness in the downing of MH17. TV pundit and “Rossiya Segodnya” media holding company CEO Dmitry Kiselyov has confirmed that Vyshinsky is boarding a Moscow-bound plane in Kyiv.

According to attorney Mark Feygin, the prisoner-exchange list also includes Roman Sushchenko, Evgeny and Artur Panov, Alexander Kolchenko, Stanislav Klykh, Nikolai Karpyuk, Pavel Grib, Alexey Sizonovich, Vladimir Balukh, and Edem Bekirov (names in Russian-to-English transliteration).

Ukraine's former human rights commissioner, Nina Karpachova, told reporters that Vladimir Putin pardoned 11 people traded to Ukraine, including Oleg Sentsov. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, supposedly pardoned 16 people. This information has not been confirmed officially.

Journalists first learned about plans for a large-scale prisoner exchange in late August. On August 30, a Verkhovna Rada staffer wrote on Facebook that the swap was already complete, and Ukrainian Attorney General Ruslan Riaboshapka reposted the information, which turned out to be inaccurate.