Russia sentences Ukraine pilot to 22yrs

2016-03-22 16:50
Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko sits inside a defendant's cage during her sentencing hearing in Donetsk. (Vasily Maximov, AFP)

Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko sits inside a defendant's cage during her sentencing hearing in Donetsk. (Vasily Maximov, AFP)

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Donetsk - A Russian court on Tuesday found a Ukrainian pilot guilty of complicity to murder in the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, opening a path to a potential prisoner swap.

Nadezhda Savchenko, 34, was sentenced to 22 years in prison. 

Savchenko was serving in a Ukrainian volunteer battalion against Russia-backed rebels when she was captured by separatist rebels in July 2014. She later surfaced in Russia.

Prosecutors said Savchenko called in co-ordinates for the shelling that killed two journalists and several civilians near the Russian border in July 2014. She denied being in the area at the time and insisted that she had been captured by the rebels a few hours before the mortar attack that killed the journalists and civilians.

Upon hearing the guilty verdict on Tuesday, Savchenko interrupted the judge and began belting out a Ukrainian song at the top of her voice. The judge, who was about to pronounce sentence, called a break in the hearing.

The Ukrainian government says Savchenko is a prisoner of war and should be released under current truce agreements in eastern Ukraine.

Speculation persists that Moscow might agree to exchange her for two Russians captured in eastern Ukraine and alleged to be active-duty soldiers despite Russia's persistent denial that it has sent troops or equipment to bolster the rebels. Russian officials have insisted that they would not even discuss a possible prisoner swap before the verdict was in.

Fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 9 100 people.

The Savchenko case has attracted strong criticism from the West and is an open wound for Ukraine, which says she was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and turned over to Russia, and therefore should be treated as a prisoner of war.

Read more on:    russia  |  ukraine

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