Ukraine and Russia carry out landmark prisoners swap

At about 9:00 a.m. Kyiv time on Saturday, September 7, two buses and a minivan, accompanied by traffic patrol cars entered the government terminal of Moscow Vnukovo airport. There was already one plane with Ukrainian state symbols which landed earlier in Vnukovo, Interfax reported. Later, another Ukrainian planed landed. According to the air traffic monitoring service, Flightradar, at around the same time, the Russian plane of the special flight detachment "Russia" flew to Ukraine and crossed the Ukrainian state border, although direct air communication with Russia is prohibited. The plane had to deliver the Russians from Kyiv.

In Ukraine, ready-to-exchange people were gathered in one of the recreation resorts near Kyiv and almost simultaneously with the Ukrainians in Moscow were taken to the Kyiv Boryspil airport. Planes with exchange participants on board took off almost simultaneously from Kyiv and Moscow. In the Ukrainian capital, the plane with the Ukrainians was met by the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky. Russian President Vladimir Putin was at the celebration of the Day of the Russian capital at the VDNH (All-Russian Exhibition Center) during the exchange.

Among those who arrived in Russia was the head of Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti’s Ukraine branch, Kirill Vyshinsky, who posted a photo of him before flying out of Kyiv's Boryspil airport, as well as Vladimir Tsemakh, one of the suspects in MH17 Boeing crash in the Donbas. The transfer of the Ukrainian fild director Sentsov was reported by the office of the President of Ukraine, his relatives were among those meeting him in Boryspil airport.

24 Ukrainian sailors captured by Russia in the Kerch Strait were handed over to the Ukrainian ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova in Moscow, RBC news agency reported citing lawyer Anastasia Samorukova. This option of transferring sailors has been discussed since July, Denisova herself reported that it was considered. It is not yet known on what legal grounds the other Ukrainians were transferred from Russia. Earlier, Ukrainian lawyer Valentin Rybin reported that about 12 Russian convicts were pardoned by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.

Till the last moment, it was not known who exactly would be transferred to Russia from Ukraine.

At the end of August, a court in Kyiv moved Vyshinsky from the detention center under house arrest. On August 29, it became known that Ukrainian film director Sentsov was transferred from IK-8 prison, located in the city of Labytnangi in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, to Moscow. This unexpected decision was interpreted as preparation for the exchange.

In early September, it became known that Moscow demanded the extradition of Vladimir Tsemakh, one of the suspects in the case of the downed Malaysian Boeing over the Donbas in 2014. On September 5, the Kyiv Court of Appeal overturned his arrest. A few days earlier, the Dutch prosecutor's office had asked Ukraine not to extradite him to Russia. Tsemakh is an ex-commander of one of the brigades of the self-proclaimed DPR in the city of Snizhne, where the Malaysian airliner was shot down.

The exchange is the largest transfer of detainees between Russia and Ukraine in recent years. It became possible after the election of the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky. During the election campaign, he called the release of Ukrainian prisoners held in Russia one of his main priorities. Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to communicate with Zelensky’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko. He did not answer Poroshenko's call immediately after Russian military captured of the Ukrainian sailors in the Kerch Strait. On the other hand, Putin spoke with Zelensky in July and August, and the topic of exchange of detainees was one of the main ones.

  Ukraine, Russia, Sentsov, Zelensky, Putin