Russia and Ukraine exchanged prisoners again. Dozens of people, including US citizens, have been released in the latest prisoner exchange. Al-Jazeera news.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s chief of office, Andriy Yarmak, said on Wednesday that the latest exchange included 64 Ukrainian soldiers and one US citizen living in Ukraine.

Yermak identified the American citizen as Swedi Murekzi. Before ending up in Russian custody, he had commented that he had ‘helped our people’, Yermak said.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby did not name the released American due to privacy concerns. “We certainly welcome this news,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in the east and south of Ukraine. A significant drone strike was carried out in the capital Kiev on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced and cities reduced to rubble since the Russian offensive began on February 24.

“There is no calm on the front lines,” Zelensky said in his regular evening video address. Russia is destroying the eastern cities with artillery. Only ruins and craters remain after the attack’

Zelensky said this week that Russia should begin withdrawing from Ukraine by Christmas as part of a move to end Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II.

Moscow rejected the proposal outright, saying Ukraine must accept the loss of territory to Russia before any progress could be made. Russia said on Wednesday there was no chance of a ‘Christmas truce’ as some contacts remained between the two sides despite the release of prisoners.

Hundreds of prisoners have been exchanged and freed in recent weeks, and there has been some progress in talks to resume Russian exports of a fertilizer and expand a grain deal.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said a universal prisoner-of-war swap deal could be an option. But he stressed that reaching such an agreement was up to Russia and Ukraine.

ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric said a major exchange could build confidence and that in the past such exchanges constituted the ‘first step to a broader agreement’.

Neither the Red Cross nor either side have released precise public figures for prisoners of war in each country, but there are believed to be thousands of such prisoners.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP news agency that Murekezi was a US citizen released in the latest swap. Murekezi was living in or near the southern city of Kherson and was captured by Russian forces.

A group called Project Dynamo claimed to have helped rescue him. According to them, Murekezi is a US Air Force veteran and was captured by Russian forces in June.

(Dhaka Times / 15 December / SAT)