Kiev, Berlin demand Moscow 'immediately' free hunger-striking Ukraine pilot

Ukraine has demanded the release of military helicopter Nadiya Savchenko, who is on trial in Russia.
Ukraine has demanded the release of military helicopter Nadiya Savchenko, who is on trial in Russia.PHOTO: AFP

KIEV (AFP) - Ukraine on Wednesday (March 9) demanded that Moscow "immediately" free Nadiya Savchenko, a hunger-striking military helicopter pilot on trial in Russia.

"We demand that the Russian side immediately releases Nadiya Savchenko and halts this farcical trial," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mariana Betsa tweeted.

Berlin on Wednesday also called for the immediate release of Savchenko, saying her trial in Russia went against a peace deal aimed at ending a separatist war in Ukraine.

"The trial against Savchenko violates the spirit and letter of the Minsk agreement, we are therefore making a joint call with our partners for the immediate release of Nadiya Savchenko on humanitarian grounds," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, referring to a clause in the accord that requires Ukraine and Russia to swap prisoners and hostages.

Germany was following the trial closely, Mr Seibert said, underlining concerns over how Savchenko had been treated since her detention in June 2014.

Referring to Savchenko's hunger strike, Mr Seibert said there were serious concerns over her health condition as well as over her imprisonment including solitary confinement, when she was also subjected to "questionable interrogation methods that violated international standards".

Savchenko vowed on Wednesday to press on with a hunger strike without water unless Russia releases her.

"I will continue my dry hunger strike," the 34-year-old helicopter pilot said in her final address to the court in the small southern Russian town of Donetsk.

Savchenko is on trial for alleged involvement in the death of two Russian state television journalists in a mortar attack that occurred two months after Ukraine's pro-Moscow eastern revolt broke out in April 2014.

The 34-year-old Iraq war veteran from Ukraine faces up to 23 years in prison if convicted in a case that has drawn global attention and been attended by Western monitors concerned about Russia's record on human rights.

Savchenko denies the charges and has refused all food and drink since her hearing was adjourned last Thursday before she was given a chance to make a final statement.

Her hearing resumed on Wednesday with the judge saying that the verdict will be handed down on March 21 and March 22.

Savchenko herself told the court that she intended to continue refusing to eat or drink water in protest.

The pilot's case is seen by many Ukrainians as a symbol of resistance against what Kiev's pro-Western leaders view as Russian aggression in the eastern industrial heartland of the former Soviet state.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Wednesday called Savchenko's trial "a challenge to the entire civilised world".

"The entire civilised world must - not just in words but in action - prove that in this world there are human rights and respect for the individual.

"That is why the entire world community must free Nadiya Savchenko," Mr Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying on the government's website.