As part of the Dec. 29 prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russian-backed militants, both sides agreed not to persecute or prosecute those released, a senior Russian diplomat and Kremlin representative has said.
That is according to Boris Gryzlov, Russia’s envoy to the Contact Group that works on a diplomatic solution to Russia’s war against Ukraine, a conflict entering its sixth year that has claimed some 14,000 lives.
“The parties … have undertaken to complete the pardoning procedures and not to prosecute people they release. Kyiv guaranteed ‘procedural clearance’ for those of them who have not yet been sentenced by court,” Gryzlov said, according to the Russian TASS state news agency.
The original news article quotes the diplomat and politician as using the Russian word for ‘persecute’ while an English translation of the same news used the word ‘prosecute’.
Either statement from Gryzlov, however, would appear to contradict pledges made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Prosecutor General’s Office to continue the criminal proceedings against five former officers of the now disbanded Berkut police unit that were released by Ukraine and swapped for captive Ukrainians.
Those five men had been charged with shooting and killing unarmed protesters during the EuroMaidan Revolution in February 2014, but were never sentenced by a court.
“This (the prisoner exchange) will not affect the Maidan cases in any way … We will finish the Maidan case,” Zelensky said at the briefing in Kyiv after the swap.
Zelensky and his team’s pledges to continue the trials of the five men in absentia were seen as appeasement for the public, already split over whether the authorities were correct to release the five suspects since their alleged crimes were not related to Russia’s war in the east.
The contradictory claims made by Ukraine and Russia require urgent clarification from Zelensky and Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka, on what exactly was agreed between the sides, says Halya Coynash, member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.
“Russia has already gained a major victory through its demand that the five Maidan suspects were included in the exchange list, and it is quite possible that it is now seeking maximum mileage in fostering distrust of Ukraine’s leaders,” Coynash writes in an op-ed.
While Ukraine received 76 people – Ukrainian soldiers, activists and bloggers, the Russian proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk received 124 freed prisoners. Besides the five suspects in the Maidan killings, these include several pro-Russian activists from Odesa, also accused of violent crimes not related to the war in the Donbas.
But there are still hundreds of Ukrainians held by Russia and its proxies.
There are 113 Ukrainian nationals currently kept in Russia and occupied Crimea, according to the office of Ukrainian ombudswoman. This includes 89 Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of Crimea, which was illegally seized by Russia in 2014 and has been under military occupation ever since.
The release of the Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia in Crimea will be included in the next stage of the prisoner exchange, according to the Ukrainian President’s Mission in Crimea.
There are also at least 300 people awaiting release in the occupied Donbas, of whom only 100 have been confirmed by the militants and have documents, according to Valeria Lutkovska, Ukraine’s representative in the Contact Group on Donbas.
The number of Russian national or pro-Russian separatists held in Ukraine that can be used for another potential prisoner exchange is kept secret. Zelensky refused to disclose this number at the briefing after the swap.