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Prisoner swap deal seen as 'real attack on credibility of Ukraine justice system'

FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg discusses the prisoner swap from Kiev, Ukraine.
FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg discusses the prisoner swap from Kiev, Ukraine. Screengrab, FRANCE 24

The deal that led to an exchange of prisoners on Sunday between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in the country’s war-torn east – swapping detained fighters for civilians and soldiers – has spurred public outrage in some quarters.

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Among those handed over to the separatists as part of the swap, Kiev included five riot policemen suspected of killing protesters during a pro-Western uprising in 2014.

The release of the riot police has raised concerns in Ukraine, with many fearing the country is being pushed to pay too high a price for the detainee exchange. 

The men are suspected of having been involved in the bloody crackdown on protesters in the Ukrainian capital in 2014. Some 100 demonstrators were shot dead during the uprising.

“They are just the five who the Ukrainian justice system had managed to detain. At least 26 others were wanted and they were suspected of having fled to either Crimea or to Russia, and Russia was refusing to extradite them and to cooperate with Ukrainian justice in any way,” FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reports from Kiev.

“So this decision is, first of all, the end of any hope for justice for the families of the victims, those who were killed in those Maidan protests [in 2014]. But it is also a real attack on the credibility of the Ukrainian justice system,” Cragg adds.

'This country has no future'

“What Ukrainians have been fighting for is going down the drain,” filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was released in the September prisoner exchange, said on Facebook.

“This country has no future,” Volodymyr Golodnyuk, whose 19-year-old son was killed in the uprising, said on his Facebook page.

“It was a difficult decision,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the press after greeting former prisoners at Boryspil airport near Kiev.

“But we were able to return those who are alive,” he added.

The European Union said “we take note” of the exchange of riot policemen.

“We expect all accusations will continue to be investigated and the parties concerned to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” the EU said in a statement.

To watch Gulliver Cragg’s full report from Kiev, click on the player above.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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