Calls grow for Russia to release Ukrainian pilot

8th March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Ukraine on Tuesday prepared to send a team of doctors to check the health of a hunger-striking helicopter pilot who is on trial in Russia as global calls grew for her release.

US Vice President Joe Biden added his voice to concern expressed by the European Union on Monday about the fate of 34-year-old Nadiya Savchenko.

"Nadiya has been unjustly imprisoned in Russia since 2014 -- detained and facing trial on trumped up charges," Biden said in a statement.

"Her unlawful continuing detention is a clear violation of Russia's commitment under the Minsk agreements, and she should be freed at once," he added in reference to a deal signed in the Belarussian capital aimed at ending Ukraine's separatist war.

Savchenko is on trial for alleged involvement in the June 2014 death of two Russian state television journalists, just two months after the separatist uprising began in eastern Ukraine.

She faces up to 23 years in prison if convicted in a trial 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 on Thursday before she was given a chance to make a final statement.

The European Union described her hunger strike as "extremely worrisome".

"Russia bears responsibility for the health, well-being and observance of the human rights of all persons it detains," an EU spokeswoman said.

Prosecutors argue that Savchenko helped Ukrainian forces locate and direct mortar fire at the two Russian journalists in the separatist region of Lugansk.

She counters that she was in the area of the attack on the reporters incidentally and was kidnapped and smuggled into Russia.

Savechenko's supporters fear that her refusal to drink may irreparably damage her health or even kill her before her next hearing on Wednesday.

A Ukrainian lawmaker from President Petro Poroshenko's party said a team of doctors would leave Tuesday for the southern Russian detention centre where Savchenko is held.

"Ukrainian diplomats have been able to wrest an agreement from the Russian authorities to allow our doctors to see (Savchenko) on March 9," Iryna Gerashchenko wrote on Facebook.

Gerashchenko negotiates humanitarian issues at the periodic peace talks Ukraine still conducts with Russia in Minsk.

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

os-zak/txw


© 2016 AFP

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