Russia, Ukraine Conduct “Great Easter Exchange” Of Prisoners
This weekend marked the most important holiday of the Orthodox Christian calendar: Easter, also called Pascha, is widely celebrated in Orthodox churches across Ukraine and Russia.
Both countries on Sunday declared a “great Easter exchange” of prisoners, which included the Russian side releasing some 130 Ukrainian prisoners of war. It’s unclear how many Russians were freed in exchange, but it’s likely a similar or greater number.
— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) April 16, 2023
Reuters notes that “The exchange was the second large prisoner swap in the past week” after last Monday there was a swap with 106 Russian prisoners in exchange for 100 Ukrainians.
There have been semi-regular such exchanges along the front lines of the conflict, but which aren’t always widely reported.
Russia’s mercenary firm Wagner Group is believed to have held the majority of Ukrainian prisoners freed:
“The lives of our people are the highest value for us,” Yermak said, adding that Kyiv’s goal was to bring back all remaining prisoners of war (POWs).
The prisoners appear to have been held by Russia’s powerful Wagner Group of mercenaries.
The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was shown telling the prisoners that they would be passed back to Ukrainian forces to mark Orthodox Easter in a video posted on Telegram by his press service.
“I hope you don’t fall back into our hands,” an armed Wagner soldier was heard telling the Ukrainian prisoners before they were ordered into a truck, some loading packs of water bottles.
In Ukrainian cities or regions engulfed by fighting, Easter service were limited:
Orthodox Easter celebrations in Ukraine were muted, with curfews barring the faithful from customary all-night services, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in the Christian faith.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attended Easter services Saturday in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. He crossed himself several times during the midnight service, known as the Divine Liturgy. When Patriarch Kirill announced, “Christ has risen,” Putin, along with other members of the congregation, replied, “Truly he is risen.”
As for Ukraine’s President Zelensky (who is Jewish), he issued an Easter address to the nation, given the majority of the country’s population identifies as Orthodox Christian. In the video address, he said Russia’s all-out war “cannot erase us”.
“Belief in it unites us all. Always, but especially today – on Easter, which has always been a family holiday for Ukrainians, a day of warmth, hope and great unity. The war could not erase us, our values, our traditions, our holidays, and the most important things they symbolize,” Zelensky said.
Mon, 04/17/2023 – 02:45