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Ukraine to Release 15 Prisoners in ‘Goodwill Gesture’ to Pro-Russia Rebels

FILE - A pro-Russia rebel stands guard during preparations for a prisoner exchange in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 29, 2015.

Ukraine on Thursday said it would pardon and release 15 prisoners captured in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine as a way to start further prisoner swaps with pro-Russian rebels.

The prisoners will receive a presidential pardon and be returned home before the two sides meet for talks in Belarus next week, said Ukrainian lawmaker Iryna Gerashchenko, who heads the humanitarian committee.

Gerashchenko told reporters Thursday that "Ukraine is handing over 15 people from the list of 228 people," many of whom are either elderly or sick.

She went on to say that Ukraine was prepared to release more prisoners, but demanded that the pro-Russian rebels release all prisoners they are currently keeping in the country's eastern region.

According to Ukraine, there are more than 100 servicemen still held captive in rebel-held areas in the east.

The last time Ukraine traded prisoners with the pro-Russian rebels was in September, when the government handed over four rebel fighters in exchange for two of its supporters.