Ukraine pilot in court over Russian journalist murders

Russian judge says Nadezhda Savchenko was complicit in deaths of reporters killed in 2014 mortar strike in Ukraine.

    Ukraine pilot in court over Russian journalist murders
    Savchenko was captured by pro-Russia rebels in July 2014 [AP]
    Correction 21/3/2016: A previous version of this story wrongly stated that Savchenko had been found guilty. The judge, quoting prosecutors, said Savchenko was complicit in the killing, but stopped short of pronouncing her guilty.

    A Russian court has begun reading a verdict for Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, who is charged with complicity to murder two Russian journalists in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

    The judge on Monday quoted arguments by prosecutors who said Savchenko, who served in a volunteer Ukrainian battalion at the time, called in the coordinates for shelling that killed the two journalists and several civilians in July 2014.

    He also quoted them as saying she was driven by "political hatred" towards residents of Ukraine's Luhansk region.

    The judge in the trial quoted the prosecution saying that Savchenko was part of a "criminal group" and aimed to kill an "unlimited number of people."

    Prosecutors have asked for a 23-year prison sentence for Savchenko. Sentencing is expected on Tuesday.

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    The Ukrainian officer was captured in the summer of 2014 while fighting against pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine and then smuggled across the border to Russia.

    She was part of the Paramilitary Adair battalion, which rights groups have accused of human rights violationssuch as arbitrary detention, extortion, torture and possible executions.

    Russia accuses her of working as the artillery spotter who called in the mortar strike that killed the pair, a charge she disputes.

    Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin were employees of a Russian state-owned TV channel when they died in the city of Luhansk in June.

    Savchenko's defence team said she was captured by separatists before the attack and that phone records prove she was in rebel hands when the journalists were killed.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera in December, her lawyer, Ilya Novikov, said Savchenko had little chance of receiving a fair trial and the "court's final sentence will be as severe as it can be".

    The Ukrainian government has protested against Savchenko's arrest, saying that she should be treated as a prisoner of war and released under the current truce for eastern Ukraine.

    Ukraine has been anxious to exchange Savchenko for some of the Russian officers who were captured in the east but Moscow has said it will not discuss a possible exchange until a verdict is delivered, the AP news agency reported.

    Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Moscow, said the case was a sign of how far relations between the two countries, once considered allies, had deteriorated.

    "In Russia she is considered a villain, someone who's killed two journalists ... in Ukraine she's viewed as a hero, some go as far as calling her the Joan of Arc of Ukraine," our correspondent said.

    Pro-Russia separatists guard Ukrainian captives before an exchange of prisoners [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

    War in Donbass

    Ukraine has accused Russia of involvement in an uprising against its rule in eastern parts of the country.

    Both the Kiev government and its Western allies say Russian troops have been fighting alongside separatists in the Donbass region, as well as supplying the rebels with heavy armaments such as tanks and sophisticated missile batteries.

    The United Nations puts the death toll as a result of the conflict at more than 9,000 and more than 30,000 injured.

    Fighting started after the Ukrainian "Euromaidan" revolution of 2013 and the subsequent overthrow of former president Viktor Yanukovich.

    Most of those involved in the bloody uprising demanded closer ties with the European Union and a breakaway from Moscow's traditional hold on Ukraine.

    A new Western-oriented administration was installed after Yanukovich fled the country and pro-Russia separatists responded by forming an armed rebellion in the eastern regions.

    Ukraine pilot won't appeal against Russia sentence

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And AP


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