Russian court sentences Ukrainian pilot to 22 years in prison

Wed 23 Mar 2016

Russian court sentences Ukrainian pilot to 22 years in prison

On 22 March, a southern Russian court sentenced Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko to 22 years in prison, after finding her guilty in charges relating to the killing of two Russian journalist during the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Additionally, she was fined  30,000 Rubles for illegally crossing the Russian border.

Savchenko denies the charges and said she does not recognize the Russian court and its right to try her. During the hearing she wore a T-shirt bearing the Ukrainian trident, a state symbol, and frequently sat down while the rest of the court stood for the judge's ruling. After the judge delivered the sentence she began to sing a folk-style protest song in the courtroom. 

Hunger strike

Savchenko had taken leave from her job as a military pilot to volunteer with Ukraine's ground forces fighting against the separatists in eastern Ukraine. She was captured in July 2014 by pro-Russian forces, and was handed over to the Russian authorities. Since then she was held in a prison in Moscow. Proceedings in the high-profile case began in September 2015. Savchenko has gone on hunger strike several times to protest her detention and recently gave judges the middle finger. Defence lawyer Nikolai Polozov said after the hearing that Savchenko plans to resume a hunger strike -- one in which she even refuses to drink water -- in the very near future.

One year ago Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko awarded Savchenko with the highest national honour as Gold Star Hero of Ukraine. On 26 October, while she was in Moscow, she was elected to the Ukrainian parliament as a member of the Batkivshyna Party and was named to the delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe . The judge, however, dismissed the defence argument that Savchenko is covered by immunity based on her status as a deputy in the Ukrainian parliament and a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Ukrainian comments

President Poroshenko said after the verdict: "Ukraine will never - I repeat, never - recognize either the kangaroo court of Savchenko, nor its so-called sentencing." Poroshenko called upon the Russian President Vladimir Putin to send Savchenko back home. He also had said he was prepared to exchange two Russian servicemen, captured during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, for Savchenko. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that only Putin can decide whether Russia will trade Savchenko with Kiev. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin posted on Twitter that the verdict was "expected" and that "it is the beginning of a new step in the struggle" to free Savchenko.

International comments

EU and US have called on the release of Savchenko. Amnesty International director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen said: "It is abhorrent to send Nadia Savchenko to prison after such a flawed, deeply politicized trial." Amnesty slammed the proceedings as falling short of international standards and called for a retrial that remains free of political interference. According to the spokesman of President Poroshenko, Svyatoslav Tseholko,  Savchenko's release is envisaged in the Minsk agreements, the internationally mediated process to regulate the conflict in eastern Ukraine. "The fact that she has not been freed yet means Russia is violating them,” he added. According to the Ukrainian government, Savchenko is a prisoner of war and should be released under the current truce agreements.
Sources: Unian, Reuters, RFE/RL, BBC, Euronews, RT, Independent