Russia, Ukraine exchange prisoners in push to deescalate tensions

Russia and Ukraine on Saturday initiated a swap of dozens of prisoners in what is being viewed as a push to deescalate tensions between the two nations that have lasted for years.

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A plane carrying 24 Russia-detained Ukrainian sailors took off from Vnukovo Airport near Moscow, while a similar plane from Borispol Airport near Kiev took flight, The New York Times reports.

A total of 35 people — 24 sailors and 11 convicted Ukrainians — are included in the long-awaited exchange, The Times reported.

Oleg Sentsoy, a Ukrainian filmmaker with a 20-year prison sentence on terrorism charges, was also part of the swap, his lawyer tweeted. 

The Russian Embassy tweeted a photo of the released Russians, saying “Our people have been released! They are flying home.”

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Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPence greeted by rainbow flags upon arrival in Iceland The unraveling of Vladimir Putin Bipartisan senators urge Trump administration to release Ukraine aid MORE said Thursday that the swap would be a “good step forward toward the normalization [of relations],” Reuters reports.

It is unclear how many Russian prisoners are being held in Ukraine.

Ukraine still wants back the Crimea region, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014 and led to Europe-imposed sanctions on the Russian economy. But the swap is thought to be a good sign for talks between the nations as Russian-backed separatists continue controlling a region of eastern Ukraine, Reuters reports.

More than 13,000 people have been killed during the conflict.

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