Quite a bit has happened in the last several days. Now that the Conference I attended is over, let’s get started with what we missed. I apologize for all the links here, as I had planned to talk about it in one post after the trial was over.
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko has been sentenced to 22 years in Russian prison. The charge against her was the June 2014 killing of Russian state-journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who were killed by artillery fire in war-torn eastern Ukraine. Savchenko, first lieutenant of a Ukrainian battalion, was captured and charged with the murder of these journalists, as she had supposedly instructed artillery to hit in that region.
The twist? Savchenko was captured an hour before the journalists died. A phone call between Russian-supported separatists reported that they captured her at 10:34 AM on June 17, 2014; the journalists were killed around 11:40 AM.
Despite this evidence, and the trumped up charge of her illegally crossing into Russia (when the journalists also had no permission being in Ukraine, as well as the fact that she had to be handed over to Russian investigators somehow), she was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison on Tuesday, March 22. Professor Mychailo Wynnyckyj from the Ukrainian capital stated that Savchenko “has taken on a Joan of Arc persona and become a symbol that even the small can resist in a battle akin to David and Goliath.”
During those two years in prison, Savchenko and her lawyers have demanded a fair trial. For one, during her trial, Savchenko had been forced to stay in a cage, a clear violation of the European Court of Human Rights. At one point of her closing statement earlier this month, she gave the middle finger to the court, further stating “I accept neither guilt, nor the verdict, nor the Russian court. In the case of a guilty verdict there will be no appeal. I want the whole democratic civilized world to realize that Russia is a third-world country, with a totalitarian regime and a petty tyrant-dictator, where human rights and international law are spat upon.“ She had protested her treatment by going on a hunger strike several times. Most recently, Savchenko is to continue a dry hunger strike again, starting April 6, promising to “take to the end,” which, frankly, may not be far away considering how often she has gone on strike.
However, there is still hope: her lawyer, Ilya Novikov, has stated that they have received “very good signals” that Nadiya will be released in two or three weeks as part of a prisoner swap. The reason for this about-face? Diplomatically, Savchenko is a nightmare. “From the beginning of March, any discussion that Russia takes part in starts with the question: ‘What about Nadyia Savchenko?’,” Novikov stated. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not stop this trial, as that would be an embarrassment for himself. He couldn’t do that! So, all of this was designed for a future exchange of prisoners – a controversial action on it’s own, let alone with Russian courts.
Keep your eye on the news for the next several weeks for any update.