The United Nations, the European Union and the United States welcomed the release and exchange of prisoners in eastern Ukraine, which has been torn by a 6-year-old armed conflict.
The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he remained hopeful this “humanitarian action” ahead of Orthodox Easter “will serve as a positive step toward more progress, including a permanent cease-fire,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
“Further disengagement of forces and unimpeded humanitarian access across the contact line is expected as part of ongoing peace efforts of international actors,” added Dujarric.
Guterres urged all parties engaged in the conflict “to take further measures in order to enable progress” in the implementation of peace agreements.
“Full implementation of the Minsk agreements is the only way to reach a sustainable and peaceful solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” said Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU.
“Russia and the armed formations that it backs must also ensure freedom of movement across the contact line for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission” and other humanitarian actors, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to reach all those still in detention, the statement reads.
The EU also reaffirmed its strong support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Foreign ministers of France and Germany said in a joint statement that the release and exchange of prisoners related to the conflict in eastern Ukraine “represents significant progress” for the implementation of the Minsk agreements, and the conclusions of the summit in Paris on December 9, 2019, “with respect to upholding the cease-fire, mine clearance, the opening of new crossing points and the identification of new disengagement zones.”
In a Twitter message, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine welcomed the move and commended the country’s government on its “continued efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to the Russia-instigated conflict in Ukraine.”
It is also called on Russia "to immediately release all other Ukrainians who remain unjustly imprisoned and fully withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory."
Thursday’s prisoner exchange was the third since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected in a landslide last year on promises to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which began in 2014. More than 14,000 people have been killed, and it has heightened tensions between Russia and the West.