By Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, 33, has not seen a Russian judge after more than 60 days in captivity, following her capture in Luhansk Oblast while fighting with the Aidar Battalion during her leave from military service. She is being prosecuted extra-judiciously by Russian authorities and is accused of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists.
After more than 60 days in captivity, Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian Air Force pilot who was captured by Kremlin-backed guerrillas on June 17 as part of the volunteer Aidar Battalion while on military leave, has yet to face a Russian trial judge.
Her younger sister, Vera Savchenko, told journalists on Aug. 19 at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, that Kyiv authorities aren’t doing enough to set her free, a part of which reportedly involves a prison swap for Russian Federal Security Service officers being held in Ukraine.
Being charged extra-judiciously in Russia, authorities there accuse Nadiya Savchenko, 33, of complicity in killing two Russian TV journalists in the war zone in eastern Ukraine. Taken prisoner in Luhansk Oblast, she was subsequently transferred to Donetsk, after which Radio Free Liberty reported that as of June 23 she was being held in a prison cell in Voronezh, Russia near Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast.
Kyiv accuses Russia of abducting her and levying trumped up charges and has demanded her release.
In a video released on June 19 of Nadiya Savchenko being questioned by her alleged Russian captors, she appears fatigued yet dignifiedly justifies her choice to join the Ukrainian multi-task force operation to rid eastern Ukraine of Russian-backed elements. In a separate video she explains her decision to join a volunteer battalion while on military leave subordinated to the Interior Ministry because the military wasn’t doing more to engage in the government’s “counterterrorism operation.”
“The army should be used (more) because there’s a foreign enemy involved, instead mostly interior forces are being used, which gives the impression that this is a civil war, and that is obviously not the case,” she says in the video.
Now Savchenko is in the international media spotlight, and has become a symbol of heroism in Ukraine. According to Interfax-Ukraine, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had a phone conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Aug. 14 during which he asked him to facilitate her release.
Communication with her, however, has been slow through lawyers. Her sister Vera Savchenko said it took 15 days before Nadiya Savchenko could receive her letter. Moreover, Russian authorities allegedly do not allow her to receive Ukrainian-language literature, according to Vera Savchenko. They have only one explanation — they cannot be checked for apparent coded messages.
According to Petro Okhotin, a member of the non-profit Open Dialogue foundation that helps political prisoners, there are four lawyers working on Savchenko’s case in Russia and only one of them is a Ukrainian. “Moreover, in their work, Ukrainian and Russian lawyers are beholden to different systems. So how can we reach a compromise (in Nadiya Savchenko’s case)?” said Okhotin at the Aug. 19 news conference with her younger sister.
According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, Nadiya Savchenko is one of Ukraine’s first female jet and helicopter pilots. A native of Kyiv, Nadiya Savchenko graduated of the Kharkiv Air Force University after serving in Iraq in 2004-2005. Her current rank in the army is senior lieutenant.
(Kyiv Post staff writer Denys Krasnikov can be reached at email@example.com).