ukraine crisis
A Ukrainian soldier fires a missile during exercises near the city of Shchastya, north of Lugansk Anatoli Stepanov/AFP

The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels have exchanged hundreds of prisoners and more are set to be swapped shortly.

On Friday, 26 December, 146 Ukraine troops were freed for 222 separatists as part of a 12-point agreement aimed at resolving the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"The head of the SBU [security service] reported the release of 146 Ukrainians to the president. The SBU expects another four prisoners to be released tomorrow. They will all be able to celebrate New Year... with their families," Svyatoslav Tsegolko, presidential spokesperson said in a Facebook post.

The exchange took place in the northern parts of Donetsk, the rebel stronghold. Russian state television broadcast pictures of prisoners boarding buses in the city.

The exact number of Ukrainians held captive is unclear but Kiev says the figure is somewhere near 600.

The agreement emerged during peace talks between Ukrainian authorities and the pro-Russian separatists coordinated by the European security watchdog Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE).

Alongside the prisoner swap deal, Kiev officials said they are suspending all bus and train services to the Russian-controlled city of Crimea potentially disrupting all transportation to the region. The Crimean peninsula is connected by land to Ukraine but not to Russia. The link depends heavily on ferry and flights.

Unrest began in Ukraine a month after Russia annexed Crimea in March this year following the overthrow of the pro-Moscow leader.

Kiev and the western world have been blaming Moscow for orchestrating the conflict in eastern Ukraine but Russia strongly denies the charges.