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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - KIEV - Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in the country's war-torn east exchanged 200 prisoners on Sunday, swapping detained fighters for civilians and servicemen held captive in some cases for years in two breakaway regions.
"It's wonderful, I'm so happy," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told journalists after greeting former prisoners at Boryspil airport near Kiev.
A plane carrying 76 captives, including 12 military personnel and 64 civilians, was met by a crowd of relatives, some holding flowers and balloons.
Family members, some with children, rushed to embrace the former prisoners with tears and shouts of joy.
"Most of all I want to relax after all this and forget as soon as possible what was happening there," Anatoliy Semerenko, one of released civilians, told reporters.
Among those swapped were Stanislav Aseyev and Oleg Galazyuk, two journalists who contributed to the Ukrainian service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Kiev also handed over to separatists five riot policemen suspected of killing protesters during a pro-Western uprising in 2014 as part of the swap, sparking public outrage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the swap as "positive".
The exchange came after Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Zelensky held their first face-to-face talks in Paris on December 9 and agreed measures to de-escalate Europe's only active war.
Earlier on Sunday prisoners filed off coaches at the Mayorske checkpoint in the eastern Donetsk region, many carrying plastic bags stuffed with their belongings, as gun-toting uniformed soldiers and ambulances were on standby.
24-year old Victoria, who did not give her surname, said she had been held for three years after being convicted of "state treason".
Another woman being handed to Kiev sported a handwritten sign on her clothing: "My country is Ukraine!"
The swap, which was overseen by monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, came three months after Ukraine carried out a long-awaited exchange with Russia of 35 prisoners each.
The previous prisoner swap between Kiev and separatists took place in 2017. -AFP
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