Moscow and Kyiv appear to have begun to exchange prisoners, according to the lawyer coordinating attorneys for the 24 Ukrainian sailors held by Russia. The Russian and Ukrainian governments have not yet confirmed this information.
“According to my information, the sailors have left the detention facility,” Nikolai Popov told Interfax. “I believe that they have been taken to the airport for a handover to the Ukrainian side.”
Around 9 a.m., Moscow time, journalists spotted two buses with tinted black windows, accompanied by a police escort, leaving Moscow’s Lefortovo detention center in Moscow. The buses were later filmed on the road leading to Vnukovo airport. Vnukovo-2 contains a terminal for government flights.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Security Service Director Ivan Bakanov arrived around noon at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport, but declined to answer reporters’ questions. Journalists in Ukraine filmed the arrival of a bus with tinted windows in the service area of Kyiv’s Boryspil airport.
The Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti posted on Telegram a photo of Ukraine bureau chief, Kirill Vyshinsky, recently released from prison, in front of a plane. A Russian-government Tu-294 plane bearing the name Rossiya already is on the runway.
RIA Novosti, citing the agency’s general director, Dmitry Kiselyov, stated earlier that Vyshinsky was preparing to fly shortly to Moscow.
No information has appeared yet about one of the more controversial of Ukraine’s prisoners, Volodymyr Tsemakh, “a person of interest” for international investigators into the 2014 downing of passenger airline MH17 over separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.
On September 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to reporters, termed the possible exchange of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners “a good step forward, toward [the] normalization” of relations between Moscow and Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had promised the release of Ukrainian prisoners from Russian captivity as part of his 2019 election campaign.
-With reporting by Interfax, RIA-Novosti and UNIAN