(Kyiv) Russia and Ukraine announced Wednesday that they had exchanged about 200 prisoners of war from each side, a week after the downing of a Russian military plane that Moscow said was carrying captive Ukrainian soldiers and was shot down by Kyiv.
Since then, the Ukrainian authorities and the West have been trying to obtain evidence on the Russian allegations, while Moscow has only published a few images of the alleged crash site and limits itself to emphasizing that “an investigation is underway” .
On Wednesday, despite persistent questions surrounding the crash of the Il-76 military plane, Moscow and Kyiv announced almost at the same time one of the largest prisoner exchanges in two years of war.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that “195 Russian soldiers” had been exchanged for the same number of Ukrainian servicemen.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the return of “207” of his fellow citizens who were detained by the Russians.
“Ours are at home”, he rejoiced on social networks, promising to bring home all the prisoners, “combatants or civilians”.
This is the fiftieth exchange of this type, said Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Loubinets.
According to him, a total of 3,035 Ukrainians have already been able to return home.
On Friday, Kyiv also announced that it had repatriated the bodies of 77 deceased Ukrainian soldiers, a procedure planned “for a long time”.
Last week, a Russian military plane crashed near the Ukrainian border in murky circumstances, killing all on board. Since then, many questions remain unanswered.
Russia assures that the Ukrainian army shot down the plane carrying 74 people, including, according to Moscow, 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were going to be exchanged.
The Russian Investigative Committee, responsible for the investigations, only published a few images showing a snow-covered field with some debris, and one or two blurred bodies, without AFP being able to confirm the location or verify the date of filming of these videos.
Ukraine has not directly commented on its potential involvement in the incident, but has expressed doubts about the presence of its soldiers on board.
The country, however, confirmed that an exchange of prisoners was planned on the day of the crash, and ultimately did not take place.
More than 8,000 Ukrainians, including more than 1,600 civilians, are still detained by the Russians, according to Kyiv.
Crucial European summit
The prisoner exchange announced Wednesday comes as fighting continues. Russia carried out a new attack overnight with 20 “Shahed” explosive drones and three ballistic missiles.
Ukraine, which claimed to have shot down a dozen devices, called on its Western allies to strengthen its defensive systems to counter Moscow’s attacks.
Few details of the damage were released, but police in the eastern Kharkiv region said a supermarket and residential houses were damaged.
In occupied territory, the mayor installed by Moscow in the town of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, announced that “two civilians” had been killed and another injured in a Ukrainian drone attack.
On the diplomatic front, while the last American envelope of support for Kyiv is still blocked in Congress, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised on Wednesday that he wanted to “do everything” to increase EU military aid to Ukraine, the day before a crucial summit in Brussels on aid to Kyiv.
Faced with Viktor Orban’s opposition to releasing new aid of 50 billion euros, European diplomats also indicated that Brussels had “reached out” to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin’s closest ally among the Twenty-Seven .