Russia releases two jailed Ukrainians: Kiev

14th June 2016, Comments 0 comments

Two Ukrainians jailed in Russia have been released and are flying home, Kiev said Tuesday, in the latest gesture of good will between the two uneasy neighbours.

Ukraine's pro-Western government views Yuriy Soloshenko and Gennady Afanasyev as political prisoners convicted on false charges in retaliation for Ukraine's February 2014 ouster of its Moscow-backed leadership.

Their release comes less than a month after Ukraine's celebrated combat pilot Nadiya Savchenko was swapped for two Russians convicted in Kiev for allegedly backing pro-Moscow rebels fighting a 26-month war in the separatist east.

"Finally!" Ukrainian President Poroshenko tweeted.

"Yuriy Soloshenko and Gennady Afanasyev are already on board the Ukrainian plane and heading from Moscow to Ukraine," he added.

Both men are due to be sent to hospital on their arrival and also meet the president.

Unconfirmed media reports in Kiev said Ukraine in exchange intended to release two pro-Russians who were convicted of promoting the separatists' cause.

Afanasyev, 25, was detained by Russia's security service in Simferopol -- the capital of the Crimea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in March 2014. He was rounded up in May 2014 along with filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and two others and slapped with terrorism charges.

Afanasyev was jailed for seven years in December 2014. That sentence was reduced after he agreed to cooperate with investigators and pleaded guilty to all charges. But he later recanted his confession and claimed it was forced out of him under torture.

Details about 73-year-old Yuriy Soloshenko are less clear.

Media reports from both Moscow and Kiev suggest the former arms factory director was arrested in August 2014 for allegedly trying to transfer Russian weapons to Ukraine.

Soloshenko was accused of espionage and sentenced to six years in prison during a hearing that was closed to the press.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said last month that 174 people were still being illegally held in rebel-controlled territories, as well as Crimea and Russia itself.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine, which Russia strongly denies backing in the face of evidence to the contrary, has killed nearly 9,400 people and tattered Moscow's relations with the West.

© 2016 AFP

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