Ukraine, Russia Make Easter Prisoner Swap

Adviser to Zelensky says more than 100 troops, others were headed home
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 16, 2023 2:25 PM CDT
Ukraine, Russia Mark Easter With Services, Prisoner Swap
An Orthodox Christian worshiper covered with the Ukrainian flag attends an Easter Sunday mass in Kyiv.   (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

More than 100 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been released as part of a major Easter exchange with Russia, a top official said Sunday, as Orthodox Ukrainians marked the holiday for a second time since Moscow unleashed its full-scale war more than a year ago. While celebrations were subdued because of security risks, with a curfew barring the faithful from customary all-night services, Ukrainian authorities and ordinary people shared messages of hope, linking the story of Jesus' resurrection to their longing for peace and a Ukrainian victory. Dozens of families had special reasons to rejoice, as presidential adviser Andriy Yermak announced that 130 soldiers, sailors, border guards, and others captured by Moscow were on their way home following a "big Easter prisoner exchange."

Yermak said in a Telegram post on Sunday that those released included troops who fought near Bakhmut, the eastern mining city that has for months been the focus of Russia’s grinding offensive. There was no immediate information on how many Russian prisoners were released, but the press service of the founder of the Wagner Group, the Kremlin-affiliated paramilitary force whose fighters are prominent in eastern Ukraine, released a video Sunday showing Ukrainian prisoners of war being readied for an exchange. In his Easter address released on Sunday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the holiday as marking "the victory of good, the victory of truth, the victory of life," and he stressed what he said was Ukrainian unity in the face of Russian aggression.

"Belief in victory unites all of us always, and especially today," Zelensky said. In central Kyiv, people gathered in the courtyard of the landmark St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery on Sunday morning to have their Easter eggs and baskets of food blessed by a priest. A curfew had prevented most from attending the traditional all-night service hours earlier, with many tuning into a livestream instead. Alla Voronina, one of the people who came to St. Michael's with baskets containing Easter cakes and multicolored eggs, said the restrictions were "very hard" on residents' morale. "You constantly recall how it used to be before the war," she said.

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Russians also observed Easter, including President Vladimir Putin, who attended midnight services in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Despite the shared Orthodox holiday, Russian shelling and missile attacks continued to sow destruction in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian regional officials. Officials in the country's south and east said churches had not been spared. The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, Serhii Lysak, said Russian forces stationed at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shelled a church in a nearby town, wounding two civilians. "The Russians have once again confirmed that they hold nothing sacred," Lysak said in his post.

(More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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