Russia arrests female Ukrainian aviator

2014-07-10 04:00
A Ukrainian Army helicopter flies close to Slovyansk, Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP)

A Ukrainian Army helicopter flies close to Slovyansk, Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP)

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Moscow - A female Ukrainian air force navigator known as "G I Jane" in her home country has been arrested in Russia and charged over the deaths of two Russian journalists, in a move condemned by Kiev.

Russian investigators said Nadiya Savchenko, a helicopter navigator and one of the few women serving in the Ukrainian air force, was an accomplice in what they claimed was the deliberate murder of the journalists during fighting in Ukraine's restive east last month.

Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who worked for state television channel Rossiya, were killed on 18 June after being hit with shrapnel in an attack by Ukrainian forces near the city of Lugansk.

Government forces have been battling pro-Russian rebels which control of large parts of eastern Ukraine for months.

Kiev said the journalists were hit because they were moving together with the rebels without protective gear, but Moscow claims they were specifically targeted and has launched a probe into their deaths.

Russian investigators said that Savchenko took leave at her regular job as an officer in the air force and joined the Aydar battalion - a volunteer detachment formed by Kiev to aid in its operation in eastern Ukraine.

"Having gained the co-ordinates of a group of Russian journalists and other civilians near Lugansk, she [Savchenko] passed them on to the combatants," and the co-ordinates were then used to direct mortar shelling, the powerful Investigative Committee said.

The statement by the investigators said Savchenko was detained after crossing into Russia while "posing as a refugee" without any identity documents and was topped during a routine ID check "in strict accordance with Russian law".

Held prisoner

Kiev however accused Russia of kidnapping Savchenko and smuggling her across the border for prosecution, demanding her "unconditional release".

"These actions will not be left without a proper response by Ukraine and the international community," the foreign ministry said.

Ukrainian authorities pointed out that she was held prisoner by militants prior to her surfacing in custody on Russian territory, alleging that her move across the border was the work of the security services.

Russian media aired clips of Savchenko questioned by the pro-Russian rebels following the attack.

In the clip that aired on 19 June, she says she came to eastern Ukraine as a volunteer because she supported the country's territorial integrity.

That she now resurfaced in detention on Russian soil "is further proof that terrorists plan and carry out their crimes in Ukraine in close co-operation with Russian security services," the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.

The 33-year-old has previously served in peacekeeping missions in Iraq in 2004-05 and has been compared in the Ukrainian media with G I Jane of the eponymous 1997 Hollywood film about a female soldier in the US army.

Read more on:    russia  |  ukraine

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