KYIV, March 25 — Russia and Ukraine have exchanged prisoners, Kyiv and Moscow confirmed Thursday, in what Ukraine said was the first swap of soldiers since Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine one month ago. 

“Following an order from President Volodymyr Zelensky, the first fully-fledged exchange of prisoners of war has taken place,” Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Facebook.

“In exchange for 10 captured occupiers we rescued 10 of our servicemen,” she said, referring to Russian and Ukrainian troops.

Vereshchuk also said that 11 Russian civilian seamen rescued near the Black Sea port city of Odessa were exchanged for 19 Ukrainian civilian ship crew members held by Moscow.

“I confirm the information regarding the exchange of 10 Russian servicemen detained on Ukrainian territory for 10 Ukrainian servicemen. And there was also an exchange of Russian civilian sailors for Ukrainian civilian sailors”, said Russian human rights ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova.

Russia’s foreign ministry said earlier this week that Moscow had completed two prisoner swaps since it launched its invasion of Ukraine late last month.

Moskalkova said nine Russian prisoners were exchanged for the mayor of Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine captured by the Russian army.

Vereshchuk on Wednesday confirmed the Melitopol swap but denied any others had taken place.

In a video address later Thursday, Vereshchuk also said the Russians have taken 14 Ukrainian officials prisoner, mostly local lawmakers or city hall representatives, and demanded their release, saying that taking civilians captive was against international law.

Citing testimony of Ukrainians released from Russian-occupied areas, Vereshchuk also accused Russian soldiers of torture and vowed to prosecute such crimes in The Hague.

“All members of the Russian military listening to my statement should know that we will not let anyone go unpunished,” she said. — AFP