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Ukraine leader proposes to swap Sentsov for journalist

July 19, 2019

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed on Friday exchanging a state news journalist detained by Kiev in return for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov who is behind bars in a Russian Arctic prison.

Russia and Ukraine are in the midst of sensitive prisoner exchange talks following the first phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelensky last week.

Zelensky said Friday that Kiev could release 52-year-old Kyrylo Vyshynsky, a Ukrainian journalist working for Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency, in exchange for Sentsov.

Detained by Kiev in 2018, the journalist stands accused of treason. A Kiev court was due to examine his case on Friday.

Filmmaker Sentsov is Ukraine’s most famous political prisoner.

He is a serving a 20-year sentence in a Russian penal colony for planning “terrorist attacks” in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014,

Last year, he staged a hunger strike and went 145 days without solid food.

“If we are talking about goodwill and want (a prisoner swap) to happen in the nearest future, we are ready to exchange Kyrylo Vyshynsky,” Zelensky said during a visit to Ukraine’s defence ministry.

But Russia’s human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova appeared to shoot down the offer, saying Vyshynsky should be released “without any preconditions”.

“He himself is categorically against any swap,” she said in a statement.

Zelensky has said that Putin has proposed exchanging all prisoners.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday confirmed that swapping “all” prisoners would be ideal but the sides had to agree what that meant.

He said the return of Vyshynsky “could be a great first step”.

This week a Russian court prolonged the detention of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured last year near Crimea, in a move decried by Kiev.

A senior Ukrainian presidential official said this week that Kiev and Moscow agreed to exchange a certain number of prisoners over the next month.

The two ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a confrontation since 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea and supported an insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Around 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.