Ukraine denies reports of prisoner swap with Russia

AFP Kiev, Ukraine Aug 30, 2019, 05.28 PM(IST)

File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. Photograph:( Others )

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Speculation has spread in recent days that a prisoner swap was imminent and reports surfaced overnight that it had begun.

Ukraine on Friday denied reports that a prisoner swap with Russia was underway, as announced earlier by some Russian media and a Ukrainian official.

"The process for the mutual release of prisoners is continuing. Information about its completion is not true," the Ukrainian presidency said in a post on Facebook.

Speculation has spread in recent days that a prisoner swap was imminent and reports surfaced overnight that it had begun.

Some reports were based on a report on Facebook by Ukraine's new prosecutor-general Ruslan Ryaboshapka suggesting the swap had started. 

Russian media outlets retracted a report of the swap and apologised.

"This is not the first time we have seen information chaos caused by... unconfirmed information," the presidency said, warning against "misinformation" and urging people not to "play with society's emotions".

"Nobody is flying anywhere," Valentyn Rybin, a lawyer for several of the Russian and Ukrainian nationals held by Ukraine and mooted for the swap. Some of his clients are still in prison, he said.

"Let's be patient and not have any false starts," he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

Russian news agencies reported on Thursday that Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker serving a 20-year jail term in Russia, had been moved to Moscow ahead of a possible prisoner swap.

That came a day after Ukraine released Russian state media journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky pending his treason trial.

However, Sentsov's lawyer Dmitry Dinze told AFP he had "no information" on the matter. 

Vyshynsky remained in Kiev on Friday, his lawyer said.

On Friday there was still no official statement regarding Sentsov's whereabouts. Russian prison monitors who attempted to see him in a Moscow jail said they failed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky whose election earlier this year has raised hopes of a reduction in tensions with Russia proposed an exchange of Sentsov and Vyshynsky a few weeks ago.

Some 13,000 people have been killed in Ukraine's conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which broke out shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

A prisoner exchange could be a key first step in easing tensions between Kiev and Moscow.