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Ukraine, Separatists Exchange Hundreds of POWs


Members of pro-Russian rebels walk past Ukrainian servicemen during an of exchange of prisoners of war outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Dec. 26, 2014.

The Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists exchanged hundreds of prisoners Friday as part of a plan to end an eight-month pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine handed over 222 rebel captives, while separatists released 146 Ukrainian servicemen. It was the largest exchange of prisoners since separatists launched their uprising in April.

The exchange, shown on Russian television, was to have taken place earlier this week. But last-minute discord at truce talks in Belarus forced the brief postponement and the indefinite suspension of a second day of negotiations that were to have taken place Friday.

In a separate development, the Kyiv government announced Friday that it was suspending all train and bus service to and from the Crimean Peninsula. Crimea was annexed by Russia early this year, despite widespread protests from Western governments and the United Nations.

Ukrainian transportation officials attributed the transportation cuts to "deteriorating" security conditions on the Black Sea peninsula.

Russia's annexation of Crimea in March came just weeks after huge protests in Kyiv forced Ukraine's Moscow-backed former president, Viktor Yanukovych, from office. Rebels launched their rebellion near the Russian border less than a month later.

The fighting has claimed more than 4,700 lives, including 1,300 fatalities since a truce agreed to in September fell apart before it could be fully implemented.