Europe

Ukraine crisis: Arson as Russians' Kiev trial resumes

The two men, named by Ukrainian officials as Alexander Alexandrov (R) and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, appeared in a cage in Kiev during their trial Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The military activities of the accused Russians - Alexander Alexandrov (R) and Yevgeny Yerofeyev - remain unclear

An arson attack targeted the office of a Kiev judge shortly before the trial of two alleged Russian special forces soldiers resumed.

Petrol bombs were hurled inside the courthouse and a fire broke out in the office of judge Nikolai Didyk, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.

Last month the Ukrainian lawyer of one of the two Russians was found dead. He had been kidnapped and brutally beaten.

Ukraine has charged the Russian pair with waging war in eastern Ukraine.

Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev were captured in eastern Ukraine last May. They are suspected of serving with Russian military intelligence, the GRU.

Russia says they were volunteers who had left active service.

A shaky ceasefire is holding in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels control large swathes of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Western leaders and Nato accuse Russia of helping the rebels with heavy weapons and regular troops - something Moscow has repeatedly denied.

Special operation?

The Kiev fire was quickly extinguished and no vital court documents were damaged, reports say.

Ukraine's chief military prosecutor, Anatoliy Matios, was quoted as saying several men had infiltrated the court premises and hurled several petrol bombs, before fleeing the scene in a car, which was later found abandoned. He called it an attempt to intimidate the judge.

The trial of the two Russians is a high-profile case - they are accused of "terrorism" and waging a war of aggression against Ukraine.

Lawyer Yuriy Hrabovsky was defending Mr Alexandrov but disappeared last month mid-trial. His body was found in a forest 125km (78 miles) south of Kiev.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mystery surrounds the murder of lawyer Yuriy Hrabovsky

Ukrainian officials say Mr Alexandrov and Mr Yerofeyev confessed to serving in the Russian special services, but later retracted their confessions.

The two men deny charges of terrorism. Prosecutors have called for life sentences.

During his kidnap, on 6 March, Hrabovsky made a video statement, saying he was giving up defending Mr Alexandrov. Investigators say he appeared to be drugged in the video.

A kidnapper asked him "Why? Why?", to which he replied: "I made a mistake."

He was last seen rushing into his office and grabbing something from the safe, accompanied by an unidentified man, Anna Nemtsova of BBCRussian reports.

Two men have been detained in connection with the murder, but their possible role has not been explained. According to Iosif Bronz, vice-president of the Ukrainian lawyers' union, the murder "looks like a special operation".

Image copyright BBbc