Ukrainian pilot Savchenko ends 83-day hunger strike

Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko listens to a court's decision in a cage in Moscow, Russia on 4 March 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Nadia Savchenko has been on hunger strike since December

Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko says she has agreed to end her 83-day hunger strike and follow doctors' advice to eat chicken broth.

In a letter Ms Savchenko said she was "changing tactic", deciding to halt her strike for a "certain time... to live".

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he wrote to Russia's Vladimir Putin demanding her release.

Ms Savchenko is awaiting trial in Moscow over the deaths of two Russian reporters in eastern Ukraine.

On Wednesday, a Russian court rejected her latest appeal for release.

'Fight with strength'

In a letter distributed on Twitter by her lawyer Mark Feygin, Ms Savchenko said she had ended her strike at the request of her fellow Ukrainians whom she wanted to "thank... properly".

She added: "If I need to fight, then I will fight with strength."

Ms Savchenko's case has become the subject of an impassioned Ukrainian media campaign portraying her as a national hero in the fight between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Image copyright Twitter screenshot
Image caption Support for Ms Savchenko is widespread on Ukrainian social media

The Savchenko media war

  • Ukrainian social media calls her a hero, launching the hashtags #SaveOurGirl and #FreeSavchenko
  • A popular Ukrainian TV channel created a webpage devoted to her plight
  • But Russian tabloids have branded her "Satan's daughter" and a "killing machine in a skirt"
  • State-run Rossiya 1 TV news say she has been "turned into a zombie"
  • On Russian-based social media though, some support Ms Savchenko

Ukraine pilot in the middle of media war

Her decision to end her hunger strike comes after reports that she was "near death" in recent days - something Russian investigators denied.

Speaking to the BBC's Sarah Rainsford on Wednesday, she said: "This will get me in the end. Sooner or later. Of course it will.

"Forty kilograms means death, and now I weigh 55. I've got 15 to go. But it won't finish me off soon. So don't worry. I will last a bit longer."

Ms Savchenko had been on hunger strike since December, even denying a glucose drip in mid-February.

'Painful subject'

Image copyright AFP/getty
Image caption Mr Putin has not replied to Mr Poroshenko's letter, demanding the pilot's release

Since her capture in June, Ms Savchenko has been elected to the Ukrainian parliament as a member of the Fatherland party, led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The appeal rejected on Wednesday had asked for her to be freed in order to attend a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

There has been no reply to Mr Poroshenko's letter, also sent on Wednesday, though Mr Putin's spokesperson said a response was "being formulated".

Ms Savchenko is alleged to have killed two Russian TV journalists in a mortar attack in the rebel-held Luhansk area in June.

However the pilot has denied the charges and both the EU and Ukraine have repeatedly called for her release.

The Ukrainian government says Ms Savchenko was abducted by pro-Russian separatists and handed over to the Russian authorities.

But Russia says she crossed the border herself, posing as a refugee.