In the first prisoners of war exchange in over a year, 74 of 168 Ukrainian soldiers having been held in captivity in the Russian-controlled Donbas are coming home.

Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists exchanged prisoners of war on Dec. 27 with Ukrainian side having released 237 prisoners.

The exchange took place at the military checkpoint Mayorske near Horlivka, a city in Donetsk Oblast, some 750 kilometers southeast from Kyiv.

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This is the first prisoner exchange between Kyiv and the Russian-led forces in more than a year.

According to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, all 74 Ukrainian prisoners are already on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government.  They are heading to the Boryspil airport in Kyiv’s suburbs, where they are to arrive at about 7.30 p.m. Kyiv time.

Every liberated Ukrainian would get proper medical assistance immediately after arrival, and they with their families will receive money aid to speed up the adaptation at home.

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The Ukrainian side handed over 237 prisoners despite the promise to release 306: 29 prisoners brought to the exchange point refused to go back to the separatists’-controlled side, while 40 who had already served their sentence and were released did not show up for the swap, according to Viktor Medvedchuk, a representative from the Ukrainian side, the leader of the pro-Russian movement Ukrainian Choice – People’s Right.

Ukrainian representatives involved in the exchange process went to the Donbas on Dec. 26: Ukrainian Parliamentary Human Rights Commissioner Valeriya Lutkovska, employees of Prosecutor General’s office and Defence Ministry as well as several experts from a humanitarian subgroup that takes part in Minks negotiations.

While Poroshenko is thanking the Normandy format, the United States, the Trilateral Contact Group, the OSCE and the other international organizations for the swap, representative of separatists Olga Kobtseva thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We hope it will continue, for not all held captives are released, from neither side,” said Kobtseva, who keeps communication from the Russian-baked forces concerning humanitarian issues.

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The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 15 called Oleksandr Zakharchenko, the Russian-backed leader of the occupied part of Donetsk Oblast, and Ihor Plotnitsky, who until recently commanded the Kremlin-backed forces in Luhansk, to say he favored a prisoner swap with Kyiv.

Currently, there are at least 386 Russian-led fighters in prison on Ukrainian territory, and 168 Ukrainians being captive in the Russian-occupied parts of the Donbas. After the swap, there will be 94 Ukrainian left in the Russian custody.

According to Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, at least 3,140 Ukrainians have been found and released from the Russian-occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in the last three years.

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