Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 28.12.2017
Here’s a rare good news story from Russia’s invasion of Europe in Ukraine. 73 Ukrainian hostages were released by Putin’s terrorist groups, the so-called “DPR” and “LPR,” to receive a hero’s welcome in free Ukraine. 233 prisoners of war held by the Ukrainian authorities crossed into Russia-occupied Donbas, where they were completely ignored by Kremlin propagandists.
73 Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilian hostages of invader-occupier Russia were released from captivity on December 27. 74 people were agreed to be exchanged by the Russian side; one woman decided to stay with here family in Russia-occupied Donetsk, even though she held to her pro-Ukraine views.
306 terrorists and criminals were prepared by Ukrainian authorities to be exchanged at Russia’s invasion of Europe battlefront near the Russia-occupied city of Horlivka, Ukraine. Citizens of the Russian Federation were not affected by this particular prisoner swap. Russia steals Ukrainian citizenship and forces Russian citizenship on much of the captive population, a violation of international human rights law for which Russia has been condemned by the United Nations. The policy of “passportization” has always been a Kremlin weapon of war. In this case it subverts the “all-for-all” prisoner swap by excluding captives who were forced to be Russian citizens.
Out of the 306 people agreed to be exchanged by the Ukrainian side, 73 decided to stay in free Ukraine and refused to cross into Russia-occupied Donbas. They did that knowing full well that they may be charged with crimes or that their pardons may be revoked and their imprisonment may be extended. For the 73 people who refused to cross the line, the risk of incarceration in democratic Ukraine is preferable to life under Russian occupation.
Some Ukrainian servicemen who fought in the defence of Europe in battle were released. Although they were held prisoner under bogus criminal charges, they were in fact prisoners of war. These soldiers had fought in the Battle of Debaltseve and the Battle of Donetsk Airport, and in fighting all along Russia’s invasion of Europe battlefront going back to the fighting of 2014-15.
Ihor Kozlovskyi (on photo), a university professor and religious scholar, had been a hostage of the Russian terrorist group, the so-called “DPR,” since January 2016. Although he is loyal to Ukraine, he chose to remain in Donetsk when the Russian invaders came and occupied the city, to care for his disabled son Slava. Professor Kozlovskyi is an advocate for inter-faith dialogue. That the Russian occupation authorities held him captive for almost two years is an outrage against moral conscience.
Vlad Ovcharenko and Akhtem Akhmerov are supporters of Zorya Luhansk football club and Ukrainian patriots, as is perfectly normal for young men from Luhansk. The Russian terrorist group, the so-called “LPR,” harassed Vlad Ovcharenko for the observations of life in Luhansk under Russian occupation that he posted on social media. Ovcharenko and Akhmerov were abducted by “LPR” goons in October 2016 and charged in a kangaroo court for the “crimes” of displaying the flag of Ukraine and burning the flag of the so-called “LPR.” They were sentenced to 17 years and 13 years respectively to maximum security imprisonment. Vlad Ovcharenko is @LUGANSKA_JUNTA on Twitter, which still shows the account as suspended.
Also from Luhansk, prominent blogger and frequent poster on social media Edward Nedelyaev. His accurate observations about life in Luhansk under Russian occupation got him into trouble with the Russian FSB-led “LPR” and he was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment – possibly for “state treason” (although Russian propagandists don’t pay much attention to such details). Edward Nedelyaev is @Edward_Lugansk on Twitter; the last tweet from that account was sent on 21 November 2016.
There are at least 103 Ukrainian prisoners of war and hostages known to be held by the Russians in temporarily occupied Donbas. At least 60 Ukrainian political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are known to be held in temporarily occupied Crimea and to have been kidnapped – illegally transferred – to Russia.
The “all-for-all” prisoner swap is not complete, and a second exchange is projected in early 2018. For now, Ukraine can celebrate a good news story about Putin’s War. 73 Ukrainian families are celebrating freedom and homecoming for their loved ones. Millions of Ukrainians take pride in their nation for taking care of its own, even under the worst of conditions. Foreign invasion from Muscovy and almost four years of Putin’s War hasn’t dampened the fellow-feeling that binds the Ukrainian nation together – not even a little bit. Ukrainians fought hard for the liberty of 73 of their own. They will keep fighting for the remaining hostages. And Ukraine will keep fighting for the freedom of all Ukrainians, and the liberation of Crimea and Donbas.