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Russia holds over 14,000 Ukrainians illegally - Ombudsman

Russia holds over 14,000 Ukrainians illegally - Ombudsman Photo: human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets (Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

Russia illegally detains over 14,000 Ukrainian citizens. The process of returning civilians is proving to be the most challenging, according to the Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets in a comment to Interfax-Ukraine.

"Returning three categories of Ukrainian citizens - children, prisoners of war, and civilians - it is the civilian group that presents the greatest challenge," the ombudsman stated.

Explaining further, the ombudsman clarified that unlike prisoners of war, there is no exchange process for civilians. "We cannot trade them, nor do we have direct means to exert additional influence on the Russian Federation. We lack even a legal basis to conduct this process," Lubinets added.

Commenting on the recent release of civilians, the ombudsman noted that it was the first instance where the Vatican participated in facilitating returns, having previously assisted with the return of children.

Large prisoner exchange

This week, 90 Ukrainian military personnel were released from Russian captivity. This marks the first phase of a large-scale exchange.

On Friday, June 28, Ukraine welcomed back 10 civilians. Among them were Nariman Dzhelyal, Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Elena Pekh, and Valeriy Matiushenko, who had been held captive from 2017 to 2018, as well as two priests from Berdiansk and five civilians captured on the territory of Belarus.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that the return of the two priests was facilitated by the Vatican.