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Russia and Ukraine swap scores of POWs despite tensions over a plane crash last week

In this photo taken from video released by Russian Investigative Committee on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, an investigator walks in a field where a Russian military transport crashed a day earlier near Yablonovo, in the Belgorod region of Russia. (Russian Investigative Committee via AP, File) In this photo taken from video released by Russian Investigative Committee on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, an investigator walks in a field where a Russian military transport crashed a day earlier near Yablonovo, in the Belgorod region of Russia. (Russian Investigative Committee via AP, File)
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KYIV, Ukraine -

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged about 200 prisoners of war each, the countries said Wednesday, despite tensions stemming from last week's crash of a military transport plane that Moscow claimed was carrying Ukrainian POWs and was shot down by Kyiv's forces.

After the Jan. 24 crash of the Il-76 plane in Russia's Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, some Russian officials had publicly questioned the possibility of future POW swaps.

Russia's Defense Ministry said the countries exchanged 195 POWs each. After the statement was released, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 207 Ukrainians were freed. There was no immediate explanation for the different figures.

"We remember each Ukrainian in captivity. Both warriors and civilians. We must bring all of them back. We are working on it," Zelenskyy said on X, formerly Twitter.

Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine's ombudsman for human rights, said on social media that it was the 50th such exchange since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion nearly two years ago, with a total of 3,035 POWs repatriated.

Among the Ukrainians released were members of the armed forces, National Guard, Border Service and national police, said Andrii Yermak, head of Ukraine's Presidential Office. He added that some of them had been captured while defending Mariupol, Azovstal, and Snake Island.

The Russian military said, without providing details or evidence, that the Russian POWs who were swapped Wednesday "faced deadly danger in captivity" and will be flown to Moscow for treatment and rehabilitation.

Moscow had said 65 Ukrainian POWs had been aboard the military transport that crashed Jan. 24. Ukrainian officials confirmed that a swap was due to take place that day and was called off, but said it has seen no evidence the plane was carrying the POWs.

Meeting with his campaign staff in Moscow as he ramps up his run for reelection, President Vladimir Putin said Russian investigators concluded that Ukraine used U.S.-supplied Patriot air defense systems to shoot down the transport plane. Ukrainian officials didn't deny the plane's downing but didn't take responsibility and called for an international investigation.

Putin said Russia wouldn't just welcome but would "insist" on an international inquiry on what he described as a "crime" by Ukraine.

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