Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels swap prisoners before New Year

The first Ukrainian prisoners get off a bus during a prisoner exchange at a checkpoint near the city of Gorlivka

Meanwhile, the insurgent-run Lugansk Information Center said that the government has released 75 supporters of Lugansk rebels, but two of them refused to return to the insurgent-controlled area.

Officials said that 238 people held by the Ukrainian government had been handed over to the separatist-controlled regions of Luhansk and Dontesk.

More people are expected to be exchanged in another location later Wednesday. They spoke after a meeting in Moscow mediated by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Kremlin has also continued to aid pro-Russia fighters in the eastern part of Ukraine, where ties to Russia are stronger.Nauert's statement also said Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program and to support negotiations toward a peaceful end to the ongoing civil war in Syria, where the US and Russia have supported opposing sides. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk's daughter.

The Ukrainian ombudsman Valeria Lutkovska told reporters that many people, who were listed as Kiev hostages, had been released from Ukrainian prisons earlier and did not arrive at the scene of the swap.

The exact number of prisoners exchanged is uncertain.

According to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), at least five soldiers have been killed in combat during past week and dozens of people, including civilians, were injured.

Both sides accuse each other of breaking the terms of the truce, which had been agreed during talks between representatives of Russia, Ukraine, separatist forces, and the OSCE in Minsk, Belarus, on 20 December.

The prisoner swap is a key part of the Minsk ceasefire agreement created to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed some 10,000 people. The Obama administration had consistently refused to approve Kiev's requests for United States lethal weaponry because it said the move risked provoking a risky escalation in the conflict.

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