Captured Ukrainian pilot defies Russian judge at end of trial

  • Reuters, Moscow
  • Updated: Mar 10, 2016 12:05 IST
Former Ukrainian army pilot Nadezhda Savchenko during a court hearing in the southern Russia’s Donetsk in Rostov region on Wednesday. (Reuters)

A Ukrainian pilot held in Russia over the death of two Russian journalists during separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine climbed onto a table and flashed an obscene gesture at a judge at the end of her trial on Wednesday.

Nadezhda Savchenko, 34, who faces up to 25 years jail if found guilty, has become a hero for many in Ukraine resentful of what they see as Kremlin backing for pro-Russian insurgents trying to break Kiev’s control over eastern territories.

Her lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, said she had suffered heart problems and fever since beginning a hunger strike last week in protest at what she called a show trial. Her life, he said, was in danger and she needed the attention of Ukrainian doctors.

“I don’t accept my guilt or recognise the sentence of a Russian court,” Savchenko said in the courtroom, according to a translation from Ukrainian read out by one of her lawyers.

People hold pictures of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko during a rally demanding freedom for her, outside the Russian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland on Wednesday. (AP)

An online broadcast from the courtroom showed her climbing onto a bench in the cage for defendants to raise her middle finger at the judge.

Helicopter pilot Savchenko was captured in eastern Ukraine in 2014 during fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Moscow separatists and handed over to the Russian authorities. It remains unclear how she was brought across the border to Russia.

The court in the southern Russian region of Rostov-on-Don said it would sentence Savchenko on March 21-22.

Breach of Minsk Peace Deal

In a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had been prepared to allow Ukrainian doctors to visit Savchenko but that was no longer possible because of her behaviour in court.

The pilot will now be denied any further visitors until her sentencing, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Regarding the health of N. Savchenko...(She) feels normal, is doing exercise. She is under the constant supervision of Russian doctors.”

The pro-Russian insurgency broke out in the industrial, largely Russian-speaking Luhansk and Donetsk regions in April, 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in reaction to the toppling of a Moscow-friendly president in Kiev. The conflict has eased since a peace agreement but tensions continue.

A woman attends a rally demanding the liberation of Savchenko by Russia at the Freedom Square in Tbilisi, Georgia on Wednesday. (REUTERS)

Russia denies providing arms and personnel to the insurgency.

A German government spokesman urged Russia to free Savchenko immediately, saying her imprisonment was in breach of the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine that was agreed last year.

“In addition, there are many questions as to how Ms. Savchenko was brought to Russian territory,” Steffen Seibert said during a regular news conference.

Russian prosecutors say that in June 2014, during the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, Savchenko helped to direct artillery fire in the Luhansk region where a shell killed two Russian television reporters.

Her lawyers say the time and location of calls made from her mobile phone disprove the allegations. At the time of the incident, Savchenko was fighting with a ground unit.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning, Denis Dyomkin and Jack Stubbs in Moscow, Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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