Sunday 4 December 2016

Russians set to find Ukrainian pilot guilty of murder

Roland Oliphant in Moscow

Published 22/03/2016 | 02:30

Army officer Nadia Savchenko gestures from inside a glass-walled cage during a verdict hearing at a court in Donetsk, Russia. Photo: Reuters
Army officer Nadia Savchenko gestures from inside a glass-walled cage during a verdict hearing at a court in Donetsk, Russia. Photo: Reuters

A RUSSIAN court has begun reading the verdict on Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian army officer, who is expected to be found guilty of murdering two Russian journalists during a battle in Ukraine in 2014.

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Miss Savchenko is accused of directing a mortar strike that killed Anton Voloshin and Igor Kornelyuk, employees of Russia's VGTRK state broadcaster, and a number of civilians during a battle north of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine on June 17, 2014.

In opening remarks at the final hearing, the judge in Russia's Rostov region said Miss Savchenko "acted as part of a group, by prior agreement and conscious of the consequences, with the aim of killing an unlimited number of people" and was motivated by "political hatred".

Russian and international news agencies reported that she had been found guilty on all counts, although it was not immediately clear if this was a verdict or a summing-up of the prosecution case.

Prosecutors are seeking 23 years in prison. The judge will deliver the sentence after reading his judgment, which could take up to two days.

Miss Savchenko, who has called the proceedings a "farce," denies all the charges against her and maintains that she was captured by separatist fighters an hour before the journalists were killed and was brought into Russia against her will as a prisoner of Russian intelligence operatives.

Miss Savchenko is a Ukrainian army helicopter pilot, but was fighting as a volunteer in a pro-Kiev militia called Aidar battalion at the time.

The Ukrainian and Western governments have described Miss Savchenko as a "hostage" being used by the Kremlin to extract concessions from Kiev.

The case has emerged as a diplomatic flashpoint in the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, where she has been hailed as a national heroine.

Since she was imprisoned, she has been elected as a member of parliament and made a Hero of Ukraine, the country's highest state decoration, by president Petro Poroshenko. He has repeatedly demanded her release and appeared to claim that he had secured a promise to do so from Vladimir Putin during peace talks in Minsk in February 2015.

The Kremlin denied that any such deal had been made and Russian officials have since explicitly said Miss Savchenko is not subject to the part of the Minsk agreement requiring release of prisoners because she is being held as a suspected felon, not a prisoner of war.

Western leaders, including Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, have also called for her release. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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