Kyiv Ready To Exchange 23 Russians For Ukrainian Prisoners

KYIV -- A senior Ukrainian lawmaker has named 23 Russian nationals she says Kyiv is prepared to exchange for Ukrainian citizens held by Russia in a potential prisoner swap.

Iryna Herashchenko, a deputy speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, said on July 2 that the 23 have been convicted of plotting terrorist acts in the Odesa, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Ternopil regions or of fighting against government forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.

"There also Russian citizens among them who are currently on trial," Herashchenko said.

At the top of the list announced by Herashchenko is Viktor Ageyev, who is serving a 10-year prison term after being convicted of terrorism and illegal weapons possession.

Ageyev, who was sentenced in January, was captured by Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk region during a combat operation in which two Russia-backed separatists and a Russian military officer were killed, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Several days later, Ageyev said in a televised statement that he had been serving in the Russian military on a contractual basis when he was captured. The Russian Defense Ministry denied that Ageyev was an active-duty serviceman when he was captured.

Despite ample evidence, Russia denies accusations by Kyiv and the West that it is providing weapons, training, and personnel to support separatists fighting government forces in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has said that 23 Ukrainian citizens are currently being held on politically motivated charges or convictions in Russia, and more than 40 others are being held on the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in March 2014 by sending in troops and staging a referendum widely seen as illegitimate.

There has been talk of a major prisoner swap for weeks, but none has materialized.

The most prominent Ukrainian behind bars in Russia is Oleh Sentsov, a film director and Crimea native who is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges he and human rights groups contend are politically motivated. He has been on a hunger strike for 50 days.