More than five years after war broke out be Russia and Ukraine, the two former Soviet republics made a tentative move towards ending the fighting after exchanging 70 prisoners – 35 from each side – a development that has been widely hailed by the international community as a significant step towards easing tensions between the two countries.
United Nations’ chief António Guterres, welcomed the exchange and praised all those who brought this to fruition, including Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“We welcome the new that the Ukrainian sailors who seized by Russia last November are finally back home, as well as the film-maker Oleg Sentsov. This is a step in the right direction. NATO continues to call on Russia to fulfil all its obligations under the Minsk Agreements, including the release of all prisoners,” a NATO spokesperson said.
Sentsov, a well-known director in the Russian-speaking world, was arrested by Moscow’s intelligence service, the FSB, in his native Crimea following Russia’s forced annexation of the Black Sea region in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by a Russian court on trumped-up charges of plotting terrorist acts.
In November 2018, three Ukrainian naval vessels attempting to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait on their way to the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Russian naval vessels fired upon and seized the Ukrainian ships in international waters off the coast of Crimea and took 24 Ukrainian sailors prisoner.