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Russia, Ukraine begin prisoners exchange07 September 2019

Moscow, Kiev agree to exchange 35 people on each side

Russia and Ukraine on Saturday exchanged 70 prisoners after intense negotiations. 

Thirty-five people from each side, including 24 Ukrainian sailors who were detained in the incident near the Sea of Azov last November by Russia, and Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky convicted of espionage, were freed. 

Commenting on the exchange, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it was the first step towards "unlocking a dialogue with Russia, and to an end of the conflict in the east of Ukraine".

"We agreed [with Russian President Vladimir Putin] on the first stage of unlocking our dialogue and ending the war. Today's exchange can be considered the first step in unlocking the dialogue with Russia," Zelensky said, adding that he discussed the issue with Putin in a phone talk on Saturday.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the detainees transfer "a very important step".

"It is necessary to support this attitude aiming to solve problems, and not to aggravate them as much as possible. Political will and systematic hard work bear fruit," Zakharova said on Facebook.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow broke down after Russia annexed Crimea following an illegal independence vote in 2014.

The UN, the EU, the U.S., and Turkey do not recognize Crimea as Russian territory.

Ukraine has also blamed Kremlin for separatist violence in eastern Ukraine, near the border with Russia.

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