A Russian judge has said that a Ukrainian pilot, Nadia Savchenko, was complicit in the murder of two journalists, as proceedings came to a close in one of the most high-profile political show trials in Russia’s recent history.
The judge in the Rostov oblast (district) in southern Russia spent more than eight hours reading out a summary of the two-year trial, including detail of what the victims were wearing when they died. He said Ms Savchenko had “committed murder by prior arrangement with a group of people out of hate and hostility”.
The reading of the verdict will continue into Tuesday, but few are in doubt that Ms Savchenko will be found guilty, with prosecutors calling for a 23-year prison sentence.
Russian media had earlier jumped the gun, announcing that she had been given a formal guilty verdict.
“You heard the first introductory and explanatory parts. Some media hurried with the guilty verdict,” her lawyer, Mark Feygin, told journalists during a break in the proceedings. “It will be guilty of course, you need not doubt that. There is no doubt and there will be a long sentence.”
Prosecutors allege the 34-year-old Ms Savchenko killed the two Russian journalists by directing artillery fire from a Ukrainian volunteer battalion in east Ukraine in June 2014. The prosecution claims that Ms Savchenko then illegally crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia, seeking asylum. Ms Savchenko, a veteran of the Ukrainian army, denies any wrongdoing and says she was abducted by separatists while fighting in war-torn east Ukraine before being dragged across the border into Russia and handed over to the Russian authorities.
Ms Savchenko’s lawyers have dismissed the charges as fabricated and accuse the Russian courts of presiding over a politically motivated trial. They claim that phone records show that Ms Savchenko was captured a full hour before the start of the artillery fire. “But the courts aren’t listening,” another of her lawyers, Nikolay Polozov, said.
Mr Polozov said his client would not appeal against the court’s decision, given that she thinks “it has nothing to do with justice”, adding that she would stop drinking water 10 days after the verdict.
After being denied her closing statement in court earlier this month, Ms Savchenko vowed to starve herself to death unless she was returned to Ukraine. After five days without food or water, Ms Savchenko apparently received a letter from the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, urging her to end the strike, after which she began to eat and drink. It later transpired that the letter was a fake.
Demonised in Russia as a blood-thirsty killer, Ms Savchenko has become a national hero in Ukraine and a symbol of resistance against Russian aggression. She was elected to the Ukrainian parliament and serves in absentia as a Ukrainian delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
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