Ukraine and Russia have completed their largest prisoner exchange since the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine. On September 7, both sides released a combined 110 prisoners, which included both civilians and those charged with violating international humanitarian law. This is the first such exchange since an exhaustive list of names was agreed upon in 2019.
The negotiations were led by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. During the seven-hour process, the Ukrainian delegation and the representatives of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics exchanged lists of prisoners and conducted detailed negotiations.
The exchange involved a separate set of negotiations with both sides exchanging prisoners at the checkpoint between Leninske and Shchastya in the so-called “grey zone” between government-controlled and rebel-held territory.
The released prisoners are now returning to their homes in Ukraine, marking a major milestone in overcoming one of the most intractable security issues in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
This is an encouraging step in a long process that has seen a major reduction in violence between Ukrainian and Russian forces since the Russia-backed insurgency was declared in 2014. This will no doubt come as a major relief to the families of those involved in this exchange, and to those who have been waiting in hope for their loved ones to come home.
The agreement could also lead to further exchange agreements in future, which could see the number of released prisoners grow significantly. Ultimately, however, the long-term prospects of peace depend on both sides coming to a political agreement. In this regard, more progress is needed before a lasting peace in the region can be achieved.