Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
In Donbass one of the most massive exchanges of prisoners, captured during the conflict took place. The New Year’s Eve release of Ukrainian soldiers and supporters of the DPR and LPR was preceded by negotiations and consultations at the level of heads of States: Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France. Nevertheless, at the last moment Kiev excluded a number of people from the declared lists, and also changed the coordinated place of the procedure.
How everything happened
On the 27th of December the representative of Kiev at negotiations in Minsk and the deputy chairwoman of the Verkhovna Rada Irina Gerashchenko reported that a column of more than 300 prisoners went to the place of exchange. “Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could communicate unimpeded with those who will be transferred for release of our guys (Ukrainian military personnel). The ICRC confirmed that they could communicate with everyone in a confidential regime,” she wrote on a social network.
Donetsk confirmed that representatives of the sides arrived to the coordinated place — Mayorsk check-point, to the North of Gorlovka. “Observers from the OSCE and representatives of clergy are present at the place of the expected carrying out procedure of the exchange,” reported the media of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
Later the representative of DPR in the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) declared that the Ukrainian authorities violate the coordinated exchange procedure. “From the side of the territory controlled by Kiev, transport continues to move. The DPR exchange, and also Ukrainian prisoners of war are obliged to remain at the collection point and to wait for the termination of the transport stream,” noted Donetsk. Also Kiev refused to carry out the procedure in the place that coordinated in advance.
Besides this, it was found out that the Ukrainian side didn’t bring all the people who were put on lists. According to the representative of the Verkhovna Rada on human rights Valeria Lutkovskaya, 43 persons from among those captured by Ukraine didn’t show up to the exchange, because they already served their sentence and were released from custody.
According to the militia, 165 people were transferred to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and representatives of Donetsk, in return, released 58 people. 73 persons returned to the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, and 16 were released. Thus, the number of the prisoners released by the DPR and LPR — 74 persons — corresponds to the reached agreements.
A day earlier the head of DPR Aleksandr Zakharchenko stated that he signed a decree on pardoning those who are sat in the jails of the self-proclaimed republic and who were included on the exchange lists.
How the sides reached an agreement
The representative of Kiev in the humanitarian subgroup at the negotiations in Minsk, the leader of the movement “Ukrainian Choice” Viktor Medvedchuk, reported about the mutual release of prisoners in two stages in November. It is precisely during the first stage that the sides had to exchange people in the proposed formula: 306 supporters of the DPR and LPR for 74 Ukrainian soldiers. During the second stage 80 detainees of Ukraine and 20 of the militia had to be released.
In the same month the President of Russia Vladimir Putin discussed Medvedchuk’s initiative with the leaders of the DPR and LPR and supported the proposal of an exchange of prisoners.
In December on the fields of a meeting of the council of ministers of foreign affairs of the OSCE on this matter, the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Ukraine Sergey Lavrov and Pavel Klimkin also had a meeting.
On the 22nd of December the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a telephone conversation. The sides stressed the need to release the people captured during the conflict before the end of the year. On the same day the leader of France Emmanuel Macron also called for a quick exchange of prisoners in Donbass.
Three days later, with mediation of the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill, a meeting between Medvedchuk and the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics took place, during which it was agreed that the procedure of an exchange will be scheduled for December 27th.
“An absolutely free person is in a camp”
On the day of release of prisoners Valentin Rybin — the lawyer of the Russian Evgeny Mefedov, who appeared before the Ukrainian court on the case of the riots on May 2nd, 2014, described that Kiev excluded some people from lists. “Despite the agreement, Irina Gerashchenko personally selected from them the persons who were already ready for an exchange, only those considered necessary by her. As a result, Evgeny Mefedov and another eight more people remained at the place of exchange!” wrote Rybin on a social network.
Also, on December 27th the lawyer Tatyana Montyan stated that her client, the citizen of Estonia Vladimir Polyakov, was also crossed off the list. “Vladimir Polyakov <…> was placed on the exchange lists, he passed through judicial clearing already on December 18th, and since this time has been kept in a filtration camp in Sviatogorsk waiting for an exchange, although theoretically he is an absolutely free person — free under the court’s ruling. On the morning of December 27th everyone except he and <…> another six Russians were loaded onto buses and taken away from the filtration camp,” she noted.
According to Montyan, her client was told that “today you won’t be exchanged because there is certain ‘a political decision'”. “Now an absolutely free person is kept in a filtration camp against his will, without any grounds,” stressed the lawyer.
Four days prior to the exchange the media in Donetsk reported that the employees of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) extort from detainees bribes for inclusion on the lists of released. “In the pre-trial detention center of the city of Kharkov there are a large number of people from the DPR and LPR who were included on lists for exchange of prisoners. And the employees of the SBU demand bribes for ‘solving questions’ also from criminals who have nothing to do with the DPR and LPR and from persons who are included in exchange plans,” it was noted on the website of the DPR hot line.
According to a woman who contacted the hot line with such information, in order to be included on the list, the SBU demanded from $1,000 to $10,000.
The political observer of MIA Russia Today Vladimir Kornilov in the “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” program described how Kiev exchanges “hostages” and how Ukrainians are turned into them in the first place.
“Just pay attention to how Ukraine constantly calls the exchange of prisoners of war? It calls it an ‘exchange of hostages’. In Ukraine hundreds of people are caught all over the territory of the country, first of all – its own citizens, turn them into hostages, and openly admit that it is a terrorist State! After all, according to all international norms, the presence of hostages as such is a war crime.
Pay attention to how in Ukraine everyone was deceived again, at the last moment citizens of Russia – one of which being Mefedov, who was never in the zone of the military conflict – and a citizen of Estonia were removed from the buses. Mefedov lived in Odessa, he was pulled out from the burning House of Trade Unions on May 2nd, 2014. Now he is a prisoner of war [as opposed to a political prisoner – ed], who was already acquitted by the Ukrainian court, who was already released, and who under all laws they have no right to detain.
In fact, the citizens of Russia are in a concentration camp! They call them filtration camps, it is near Sviatogorsk. In Ukraine – a ‘democratic European’ State – people are held as extrajudicial hostages who were acquitted in court. In order so that at the needed moment Poroshenko can have his PR, having exchanged these hostages for valid prisoners of war. Here is what Ukraine represents today — a terrorist State,” summarised Vladimir Kornilov.
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