Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels exchange prisoners

The office of Ukraine's president says Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels have exchanged 34 more prisoners

“All of this is being done for Ukrainians, who we must rescue from the hell of captivity,” Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy's chief of staff, said. “We're bringing back all Ukrainians (held captive by the rebels). With no exceptions. This is what strong countries that value their citizens do.”

Prisoner exchanges were part of an agreement brokered last year at a summit of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. The aim is to take confidence-building steps toward talks to end the war.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the prisoner exchange and urged all parties “to take further measures in this spirit” in order to enable progress in implementing the 2015 Minsk peace deal, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“He hopes that this important humanitarian action in advance of Orthodox Easter will serve as a positive step towards more progress, including a permanent ceasefire, in line with his global appeal, as well as further disengagement of forces and unimpeded humanitarian access across the contact line,” Dujarric said.

The last major prisoner swap between separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces took place in December, when the two sides exchanged 124 rebels for 76 Ukrainians.

Ukraine continues to negotiate for the return of prisoners held in Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, according to Zelenskiy’s office. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in a move that Ukraine and most other nations consider illegal.