Will There Be an “All-For-All” Prisoner Swap?
They are among the 113 political prisoners still held by the Kremlin in the territory of Russia and occupied Crimea
One of them is Valentyn Vyhovskyi. Five years ago he went to the Crimea to visit an aircraft salon. He was arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison on espionage charges.
Blogger Nariman Memediminov was jailed for his public activity. As were the activists of Crimean Tatar organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. The international Islamic movement was declared extremist and banned in Russia.
They are among the 113 political prisoners still held by the Kremlin in the territory of Russia and the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula.
“There are 89 Crimean Tatars, 52 of them are held in Crimea, the rest are in Russia. The list was put together by our office with the assistance of the Ukrainian embassy in Russia. We continue negotiations so that all of our citizens can return home,” Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Liudmyla Denisova said.
There are even more prisoners – both civilian and Ukrainian military – in the east of Ukraine in the territories under hybrid Russian occupation. The negotiators from the trilateral contact group in Minsk are working on their return. The list of known POWs includes tank driver Bohdan Pantiushenko. Servicemen Serhiy Hlondar and Oleksandr Korenkov have eaach been in captivity for five years.
“We work with the numbers cited by the Security Service. That’s 223 prisoners. And recently they mentioned 227. But I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is simply no way to keep track of everyone who is being kidnapped and held in the gray zone in Donbas,” Human Rights Activist Oleksandra Matviychuk said.
The prisoners can be returned through diplomatic negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. However, Moscow can use prisoners as a bargaining chip to put pressure on Kyiv in negotiations over the future of the Donbas.
“We follow the international negotiations, but at some point, we need the help of thousands of people. Therefore, I urge you to become volunteers, join public protests. Our principle is, ‘I can’t change anything alone, but without me, nothing can change,'” Matviychuk said.
The recent exchange of prisoners may mean progress on the diplomatic level. It, however, doesn’t mean that Russian authorities will not continue jailing Ukrainians under trumped-up charges, even with the sole purpose of being exchanged later, says lawyer Nikolai Polozov. He said that the Kremlin agreed to release the Ukrainians because of international pressure, particularly – the economic sanctions.
“The Russian authorities are under a certain pressure from the sanctions, and, of course, it is in the Kremlin’s interest that at least some of the sanctions are lifted. There is a certain pressure from the West, from Germany, France, the United States, both in Ukraine, and Russia for the Donbas issue to be resolved,” he said.
Negotiations are underway to facilitate further prisoner exchange, which may take place later this year.