Pro-Russian Rebels Release Ukrainian Prisoners In Major Prisoner Swap As Peace Talks Crumble

Following a series of rare peace talks, pro-Russian separatists released four more Ukrainian prisoners on Saturday in a major prisoner swap with the Ukrainian government. The release comes just a day after the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine exchanged 146 captive servicemen for 222 rebel prisoners, bringing the total number of released Ukrainian prisoners over the last two days to 154, according to Voices of America.

The Ukrainian government said on Saturday in a statement that the four newly released prisoners were three civilians and one service member. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met some of the freed prisoners once they returned to Kiev. Poroshenko said upon their release:

As the president and as an ordinary citizen my heart is full of joy. As promised you’ll be able to celebrate New Year with your families and military friends. That’s what we’ve been waiting for so long. Thank you very much.Long live Ukraine. Long live the heroes.

Although the prisoner swap is a pivotal moment for the Ukraine conflict, which has waged on since early 2014, the release may end up bringing more bad news for Ukrainian citizens. According to The New York Times, the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, which now controls the Crimea peninsula, have stagnated, showing no sign of peace in the Ukraine anytime soon. On Friday, the Ukrainian government froze bus and railroad services — for both passengers and cargo — to and from the Crimea. Ukrainian Railways, a state-run service, also reportedly stopped its service to the Crimea to protect the safety of its passengers.BBC News reports that two U.S. credit card companies, Visa and Mastercard, said on Friday that they no longer support credit or debit cards used in the Crimea. The action is another devastating effect of the U.S. and European sanctions placed on the Crimea following Russia's annexation of the peninsula earlier this year.

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Nearly 5,000 people have died since the Ukrainian conflict broke out in February. Although a ceasefire was agreed upon by Ukraine and Russia in September, many foreign correspondents in the region have said that hundreds of residents of the eastern Ukraine have been killed since then.

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