Ukrainian court frees Russian journalist

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian court on Wednesday released a Russian journalist on parole after more than a year in jail, an apparent signal that a much-anticipated prisoner exchange with Russia is getting on track.

Kirill Vyshinskiy, the Kyiv bureau chief for the Russian state RIA-Novosti news agency, had been in custody since his arrest on treason charges in May 2018. The journalist, who has Ukrainian citizenship, has rejected the charges, saying that he only did his work as a journalist.

Speaking after the court’s ruling, Vyshinskiy expressed his gratitude to Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who has pushed for his release.

The court’s decision to set Vyshinskiy free appears to herald the start of a prisoner swap with Russia that has been discussed since former comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the Ukrainian presidency in April.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin welcomes Vyshinskiy’s release, but he wouldn’t say if Russia would respond in kind and release Ukrainian prisoners.

Ukraine has urged Russia to release 24 Ukrainian sailors captured off Crimea in November, along with other prisoners, while Russia has demanded the release of some other prisoners in Ukrainian custody.

Zelenskiy, who was elected in a landslide, has made getting Ukrainian prisoners home and settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine his top campaign promise and policy priority.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the expected exchange of prisoners would involve Oleg Sentsov, arguably the highest-profile Ukrainian imprisoned in Russia. A native of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2015 for conspiracy to commit terrorism. His supporters call the prosecution of Sentsov, who staunchly opposed the annexation of Crimea, politically motivated.

Last October, the European Union awarded its human rights prize to Sentsov.

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