In a step toward easing tensions between the two countries, Russia and Ukraine traded a total of 70 prisoners Saturday. Each country flew 35 prisoners to the other country. Greeting the released Ukrainians at the airport, the country's president said, "We have to do all the steps to finish this horrible war." Russia said it was glad to have its citizens home, the BBC reports. The relationship deteriorated when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014, and rebels supported by Russia launched an insurgency in eastern Ukraine in which more than 13,000 people have been killed. The Russian arrivals were taken off their plane and put on a bus for medical checkups, per the AP. Their names were not immediately released. Ukraine's arrivals were greeted with hugs from family and friends on the tarmac, recorded by news media.
The Dutch government said the prisoners released by Ukraine included Volodymyr Tsemakh, who is suspected of being involved in the downing of flight MH17, in which 298 people were killed. His involvement delayed the exchange, and Dutch officials were allowed to interview Tsemakh again before his release. Film director Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced in 2015 for what Russia called terrorism in a widely criticized case, also was released. Among the Ukranians freed were 24 sailors who were taken off Crimea in November. Russia has hopes that the exchange will result in an easing of European sanctions imposed over the fighting in eastern Ukraine. A NATO spokeswoman on Saturday said the exchange was a "step in the right direction" but called on Russia to release all prisoners. (Read more Russia-Ukraine conflict stories.)