Ukraine pilot Savchenko vows hunger strike at Russian trial

  • 3 March 2016
  • From the section Europe
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Nadia Savchenko in court in Donetsk, Rostov region of Russia. 2 March 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nadia Savchenko has appeared in court in traditional Ukrainian dress

A Ukrainian pilot accused of killing two Russian journalists has vowed to go on hunger strike after being denied a closing statement at her trial.

Nadia Savchenko appeared furious after her statement was refused, despite 90 minutes remaining of what was expected to be her last full day in court.

Summing up, Ms Savchenko's lawyers described the case as a show trial.

She denies directing artillery fire from a Ukrainian volunteer battalion at the Russian journalists in June 2014.

Ms Savchenko has become a heroine in Ukraine where she is a symbol of the country's resistance against Russia. She regularly declared "Glory to Ukraine" to family and supporters in the court.

She was elected in absentia to Ukraine's parliament in September 2014, three months after she was captured by pro-Russian rebels.

The helicopter pilot was tried in a cramped courtroom in the small Russian town of Donetsk, close to the border with Ukraine.

In the courtroom: Sarah Rainsford, Moscow correspondent

Nadia Savchenko was clearly infuriated by this unexplained delay. She had been expecting to make her final statement and there was still plenty of time before the court closed.

Instead, the judges rose and rushed out. Their announcement of a break until 9 March was barely audible. From her courtroom cage, Ms Savchenko yelled that she was declaring a hunger strike. "Even if they kill me," she vowed in Ukrainian, "they won't break my spirit or the spirit of Ukraine."

She was still shouting about the lack of justice in Russia when journalists were ushered out by armed bailiffs in balaclavas. Outside the defence lawyers were equally stunned. One wondered whether the contents of her final speech had unnerved the court; another guessed at some kind of backroom deal between Moscow and Kiev over a prisoner swap.

Ms Savchenko's decision to call a hunger strike will add pressure to proceedings. She has already refused food twice before for long stretches. This time she has vowed to refuse water as well.

Anger and defiance at trial delay

She faces 23 years in prison if found guilty.

Ms Savchenko appeared on Thursday dressed in a traditional embroidered Ukrainian blouse and watched proceedings from a wooden and metal cage.

Representatives from the embassies of Canada, Sweden and the EU are monitoring her trial, along with her younger sister, Vira, and a few friends.

The prosecution argues that it has proven her guilt in relation to the murders of two Russian state TV journalists during fighting in eastern Ukraine.

They say she acted as a spotter, deliberately directing mortar fire at the journalists out of "hatred" for all Russians.

Image caption Nadia Savchenko was delivered in court on Thursday for what is expected to be the last day of her trial
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The defence argues the former helicopter pilot is receiving a show trial in which a guilty verdict in inevitable

She is also charged with the attempted murder of the team's cameraman - who was not injured - and illegally crossing the border into Russia.

Her defence argues that the evidence against her does not stack up. They say she was abducted by pro-Russian separatists, handed over to the Russian authorities and smuggled across the border by her captors.

Telephone records show she was captured before the journalists were killed, the defence argues.

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