Yesterday, at the meeting of the Verkhovna Rada [Parliamentary] committee in the issues of national security and defense, representatives of the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine], the Ministry of Defense, and the National Guard of Ukraine spoke concerning the situation with the release of prisoners.
A definite positive fact is that to date, a total of 1,267 persons (military servicemen and civilians) have been freed, through the efforts of the interdepartmental center with the SBU (in cooperation with the MoD, MIA, NGU, and the State Border Service). However, 684 identified persons still remain captive, and 1,667 more are considered missing (some of them have been captured by terrorists).
As explained by the Head of the SBU Central Investigation Department, the situation is very complicated. Back in September, at the Minsk negotiations, the Ukrainian side demanded that the terrorists provide complete lists of our citizens who have been taken prisoner by insurgents and Russians. The terrorists swore to do that. However, we all know how little their promises are worth, as we are yet to see these lists. Therefore, negotiations [on prisoner release] are conducted in an “extended” format – insurgents provide information about separate prisoners (or small groups of them), and then a decision is made to exchange them for some of the captive terrorists.
Another reason why it is impossible to implement the original suggestion by the Ukrainian side and exchange “everyone for everyone” is because some of the hostages are held by gangs that, supposedly, obey neither the “LNR” [Luhansk People’s Republic] nor the “DNR” [Donetsk People’s Republic]. Obviously, this issue could be resolved by Moscow, because not a single gang in Donbas could exist without its help. But again, Russia is allegedly “entirely unrelated” to the conflict in Donbas…
In general, Putin’s “denial game” and Ukraine’s “peaceful status” together constitute the main problem. Russia’s aggression has not been recognized legally, so, from a legal standpoint, there is no war. Therefore, captured Ukrainian military servicemen are not prisoners of war (de jure they are the terrorists’ hostages), and international laws concerning prisoners of war do not apply to them. The same is true on our side: insurgents who are kept behind bars right now are not prisoners, but persons arrested or detained for terrorist activity, and kept in custody by a court ruling, as ordinary convicts.
In the end, any work done to free the prisoners has next to no legal grounds, because, legally, there are no prisoners to speak of. The whole thing is basically improvisation. This is what happens when Ukraine, which has been at war for nine months now, is legally in a state of “peace.”
At the same time, representatives of government ministries pointed out some shortcomings in the legislation, which, if removed, would help intensify the work aimed at prisoner (hostage) release. That concerns, for example, the procedure for release of detained terrorists from custody and their transfer for exchange. The Verkhovna Rada committee in issues for national security and defense will be initiating resolution of these issues in the nearest future.
Dmitry Tymchuk, Head of the Center for Military and Political Research, Coordinator of the Information Resistance group, Member of Parliament (People’s Front)
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine