Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 26.12.2017
Some Ukrainians who are prisoners of war and hostages of Russia may be released in time for New Years. If this happens it will be a joyous event. It has been a long time coming: some of the detainees have been held since early in Russia’s invasion of Europe in Crimea and Donbas, since 2014.
Russia is required to do an “all-for-all” prisoner swap. This is a condition of the Minsk Agreements. Russia has been non-compliant with this and every other condition of the Minsk Agreements for two years. Ukraine has been prepared all along to make the exchange. Finally, a breakthrough may be in the offing. On December 27, there is proposed to be a “306 for 74” prisoner swap: Ukraine will hand over 306 Russian prisoners of war, terrorists, and criminals at the contact line to go to the Russia-occupied part of Donbas (the problem is some of them don't want to go there); Russia will hand over 74 Ukrainian prisoners of war and hostages at the contact line to go to free Ukraine.
Russia is evasive about the release of political prisoners who it holds captive in Russia and in illegally occupied Crimea. Oleg Sentsov is the most well-known of these hostages. Like many of the activists whom the Putin regime is persecuting for their loyalty to Ukraine, Sentsov had his Ukrainian citizenship stolen from him and Russian citizenship illegally imposed upon him. He was spirited away from his home in Ukraine to be imprisoned in Russia. When Russia deprives Ukrainians of their citizenship, applies Russian law on occupied territory of Ukraine, and moves hostages outside their home country of Ukraine, then Russia is violating international human rights law. The United Nations General Assembly recently passed a resolution that again condemns Russia for its grave abuses of human rights, calls upon all countries to respect the non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea, and demands that Russia release all its hostages.
Putin is desperate to distance himself from everything about his botched invasion of Europe in Crimea and Donbas. With this prisoner swap, the Russian dictator is pretending that Vladimir Gundyayev, Alexander Zakharchenko, Leonid Pasechnik, and Viktor Medvedchuk made the deal. Gundyayev, known as Kirill, is the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate); Zakharchenko is the nominal head of the Russian terrorist group, the so-called “DPR”; Pasechnik is the newly-installed nominal head of the Russian terrorist group, the so-called “LPR”; Medvedchuk is head of a pro-Russian organization in Ukraine. All four men are completely beholden to Putin.
If and when the Ukrainian hostages come home, they will be able to tell their stories. Their testimony will add to the body of evidence of war crimes being committed by Russia in its invasion and occupation of Crimea and part of Donbas. The Putin regime is in increasing legal jeopardy for its violations of international human rights law. “Magnitsky” laws now are in force in five countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Canada, and Lithuania) and Ukraine is on-track to become the sixth. The corrupt Russian officials who kidnap, hold hostage, torture and abuse Ukrainians are committing serious crimes. They will be held to account.
May the Ukrainian prisoners of war and hostages be returned to free Ukraine soon. May this be a step towards captive Ukraine – Crimea and part of Donbas – being liberated.