Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed rebels began exchanging prisoners in eastern Ukraine Wednesday, the first major transfer in months and the largest such swap since a pro-Russian uprising erupted in that part of the former Soviet republic in 2014.
The agreement requires Kyiv to hand over 306 prisoners to the rebels and receive 74 prisoners in return.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in April 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea a month earlier. A number of truces have helped de-escalate the violence, but killings continue.
The ongoing trouble between the Russia-backed separatists and government troops has killed more than 10,000 people. A truce signed in 2015 called for an exchange of all prisoners, but both sides are suspected to have detained dozens, and possibly hundreds, for use as bargaining tools.
A Ukrainian government official and separatist leaders agreed to exchange prisoners last week with mediation provided by the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“I hope that the process that has begun will continue and will guarantee the establishment of a just and long-lasting peace,” Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said Monday.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russia of sending troops and weapons across the border. Moscow has denied the charge.