Ukrainian pilot Savchenko gets 22 years in Russian prison, sings through reading of final verdict

Ukrainian citizen Nadezhda Savchenko © Sergey Pivovarov
A Russian court has found Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko guilty of all charges, except murdering Ukrainian civilians. She is to spend 22 years in prison and pay a fine.

The judge was unable to finish reading the verdict as the woman began singing a Ukrainian nationalist song during the announcement, expressing her denial.

O my judges, you’ve judged me for two years, but you will perish in prison yourselves…! Glory to Ukraine! Death to our enemies!” sang Savchenko, interrupting the judge, Leonid Stepanenko. Earlier he reprimanded her for laughing during the hearing. The judge noted that she was aggressive, impulsive and did not accept criticism.

Stepanenko ruled that Savchenko’s correction is only possible in isolation from society and said she will be given a custodial sentence.

The woman was proclaimed guilty of murdering two Russian journalists near Lugansk, in Eastern Ukraine, and of illegally crossing the Russian border. According to prosecutors, she relayed the coordinates of a checkpoint where two Russian journalists were subsequently killed by the Ukrainian Aidar battalion artillery fire near Metalist, Ukraine, in June 2014. The attack resulted in the deaths of Ukrainian civilians. After that Savchenko illegally crossed the border into Russia.

The court stressed that it found the evidence and witnesses’ accounts, collected by the Russian Investigative Committee, reliable, and rejected Savchenko’s protestations of innocence. The court also noted that Savchenko was aware that her actions – adjusting artillery fire – would result in deaths.

"Savchenko does not suffer from dementia, mental illness has not been established, she was aware of the extent and social danger of her actions, it was not a fit of passion," the judge stated.

On top of the 22-year jail term, the Ukrainian pilot is also to pay a fine of 30,000 rubles (around $400) for crossing the border illegally. The fine had been initially set at 80,000 RUR.

The court dropped charges of Savchenko being involved in the deaths of civilians in Eastern Ukraine, stating that “Russian courts have no authority to try her for murdering Ukrainian civilians.

However, as noted by the prosecutor, the death of civilians under artillery fire will be further investigated in the larger criminal case of war crimes in Donbass, the rebellious region in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian court denied Savchenko diplomatic immunity as a member of Ukraine’s Rada and the Country’s delegate to the PACE Parliamentary Assembly. The judge explained that Savchenko became a member of parliament and a delegate to PACE after she committed the crimes heard in these proceedings, and immunity in such cases does not apply.

The Ukrainian government insists Savchenko is a prisoner of war and should be released under current truce agreements in eastern Ukraine. President Petro Poroshenko also said Tuesday that Ukraine will never recognize Russia’s sentencing of the pilot. However, he is ready to exchange Savchenko for the two Russian servicemen being detained on Ukrainian territory for alleged “participation in armed aggression against Ukraine."

The trial of their cases is in the final stage. Immediately after it’s completed I'm ready by appropriate procedures to ensure their travel to the Russian Federation," Poroshenko said. The Ukrainian leader didn’t clarify who exactly he had in mind, but most likely he was talking about Russian soldiers Alexander Alexandrov and Evgeny Erofeev, detained in Ukraine in May 2015.

The spokesperson for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, commented on the possibility of the exchange, stressing Russia “will act in strict accordance with the law, while the final decision on the matter can come only from [President Putin].

The Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, said that Kiev will continue to fight for the liberation of Savchenko after the verdict.

Savchenko herself denies the charges, but said she will not appeal. She intends to resume a hunger strike to demand her release and return to her home country. At present, she is refusing solid food, taking only baby mixtures and water, her attorneys claim. Meanwhile Mark Feygin, Savchenko’s lawyer, has already appealed to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders.

"[Savchenko’s] refusal to appeal closes the possibility of an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Despite our disagreement with Nadia [Savchenko] on this issue, I launched a number of international procedures for her liberation," Feygin wrote on his Facebook page.

"I turned to the [UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention] with Savchenko’s case and am waiting for the results in April," he added.

Commenting on Savchenko’s reluctance to appeal, Feygin stated that “it's her personal decision, she believes that her refusal to appeal will prompt the negotiation process and speed up her extradition to Ukraine."