Europe

Ukraine pilot Savchenko appears in Russian court

Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko stands inside a defendants' cage as she attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia (6 May 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nadia Savchenko, seen here at an earlier court hearing in Moscow, could get 25 years in prison if convicted

A Ukrainian helicopter pilot, accused of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, has appeared in court in Russia.

A pre-trial hearing for Nadia Savchenko, in custody for more than a year, was held in the town of Donetsk, close to the Ukrainian border.

It was adjourned after the defence asked for the trial to be moved.

Two Russian journalists were killed in a mortar attack last June, which prosecutors allege she helped target.

The case has soured already strained relations between Moscow and Kiev.

Russian investigators say Ms Savchenko, a helicopter navigator, was working as a spotter in eastern Ukraine, and provided the co-ordinates for the deadly mortar attack in June 2014.

Her lawyers have previously told the BBC that she has an alibi, and had already been captured by rebels at the time the attack happened.

However, they say a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion as the court follows political orders.

If convicted, the pilot could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison in Russia.

Embassy staff from the UK, US and several other countries were not allowed to attend the pre-trial hearing.

Ms Savchenko's defence team requested that the trial be moved to Moscow, away from Rostov region, which borders Ukraine and is close to the ongoing conflict.

Her lawyers say the trial was held in remote Donetsk to minimise critical media coverage, and to make the affair as logistically difficult for the defendant as possible.

The judge has accepted the defence's right to challenge the location of the trial, and referred it to Rostov's main regional court for consideration. A decision is expected within 10 days.

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 illegally, posing as a refugee, before being detained.

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