Authorities from Kiev government and the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine have swapped hundreds of prisoners of war as a part of a 12-point plan to end the conflict that has plagued the country for much of 2014, a spokesperson for President Petro Poroshenko said.
After Friday's swap, more prisoner exchanges are expected between the two groups in the east on Saturday, the BBC reported. According to Ukrainian officials, they were hoping that four soldiers would be free. The number of militants due to be released has not been confirmed yet.
The agreement for the mass prisoner swap that took place on Friday followed peace talks between envoys of Ukraine, Russia, the separatists and European security watchdog Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
"The head of the SBU (Security service) reported the release of 146 Ukrainians to the president," spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko said in a Facebook post, as noted by Aljazeera. "The SBU expects another four prisoners to be released tomorrow. They will be able to celebrate New Year...with their families."
Russian state television showed Ukrainian war prisoners being boarded in a bus in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, before they were driven to a place north of the city where the exchange reportedly took place.
In the place where the exchange took place, prisoners were called up by groups of 10 while officials from both sides verified their identities. Although Ukraine's military said this month that about 600 Ukrainians were in rebel hands, it is not known exactly how many prisoners were being held by both the sides.
This comes as Ukraine froze all the vital bus and rail links with Crimea, its southern peninsula which was annexed by Russia earlier in the year. The areas have also experience power shortages in the recent days.
In a separate development, the world's two largest credit and debit card companies, Visa and Mastercard, said on Friday that they could not support bank cards being used in Crimea. This was followed by fresh US sanctions imposed earlier this month.