Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels swap prisoners before New Year

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The largest exchange of prisoners since conflict began in 2014 between separatists from eastern Ukraine and Kiev has started on Wednesday.

The conflict in Eastern Ukraine started in April 2014 after Russian Federation annexed Ukraine's Crimean penninsula.

Ukraine received 74 captives from rebel forces occupying the Donbass region, which borders Russia, Ukrainian politician Iryna Lutsenko said.

According to Poroshenko, among the prisoners handed to Ukraine were a historian and a "cyborg" - the nickname Ukrainians gave to soldiers who defended Donetsk airport in one of the conflict's most intense battles in 2014. A United States decision to provide Ukraine with weapons has seen Russian Federation warn the U.S. is encouraging "new bloodshed".

"Nothing is more important than to bring our people home", Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said.

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The head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Monday announced that a deal had been struck for a prisoner exchange between Ukrainian authorities and the self-proclaimed popular republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of the country.

The Minsk agreements were put in place to end the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes the exchange in a joint statement and called on both sides to release the remaining captives.

At a summit in Minsk in February, Ukraine and Russian Federation agreed to a new package of measures put forward by then-French president Francois Hollande and Merkel to revive the Minsk Protocol.

On December 20 this year, the signatories to the Minsk agreements made a recommitment to the cease-fire. The Kremlin has also continued to aid pro-Russia fighters in the eastern part of Ukraine, where ties to Russia are stronger.Nauert's statement also said Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program and to support negotiations toward a peaceful end to the ongoing civil war in Syria, where the USA and Russia have supported opposing sides. "And the United States has chose to give them weapons to do that", Ryabkov said.