WATCH ABOVE: A prisoner exchange between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia rebels could be the biggest one-time prisoner swap since the insurgency flared up in eastern Ukraine in April.
DONETSK, Ukraine – A major exchange of war prisoners was embroiled in controversy Friday, with some reports saying it has been completed and others saying it had has been pushed back a day.
Russia’s Interfax news agency said the exchange had been completed successfully on neutral ground between the sectors controlled by the insurgents and the government forces, but the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted separatist rights ombudsman Darya Morozova saying that the exchange was pushed back until Saturday.
The conflicting reports couldn’t be independently confirmed.
The pro-Russia rebels had been set to release 150 Ukrainian prisoners in exchange for the Ukrainian government releasing 222 captives, Ukrainian and rebel officials said.
Russia’s state television showed Ukrainian war prisoners boarding buses in the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk before being driven to a location north of the city where the exchange took place.
The exchange had been tentatively planned for earlier this week, and the failure to conduct it pushed back another round of Ukraine peace talks in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, which was set for Friday but was adjourned indefinitely.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces, volunteer battalions and pro-Russia separatists has claimed more than 4,700 lives since last spring.
Previous rounds of talks in September produced a cease-fire and an agreement to pull back heavy weapons, but both sides have failed to agree on a line of division and fighting continued.
Hostilities have diminished in the past weeks amid renewed peace efforts, but mutual suspicions and distrust have stymied progress.
Ukraine’s parliament vote earlier this week to abandon the country’s non-aligned status, a first step toward a possible bid for NATO membership which is anathema to Moscow, also has hampered talks.
Amid the tensions, Ukraine on Friday suspended train and bus services to the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula, citing security concerns.
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula in March following the ouster of Ukraine’s former Moscow-friendly president after months of protests.