Russia opens trial of jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko: court

30th July 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday opened the high-profile trial of jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, a hugely controversial case that could send ties between Moscow and Kiev to a new low.

The 34-year-old helicopter navigator faces up to 25 years in prison for her alleged involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine last year.

Savchenko, who has been in pretrial jail for more than a year, was put in the dock in the small southern Russian town of Donetsk on the border with war-torn eastern Ukraine, in a move her defence says is aimed at shielding the proceedings from the public eye.

The trial started with a closed preliminary hearing at the Donetsk city court, with a heavy police presence in the border town of some 50,000 people.

"Nadezhda Viktorovna Savchenko has been brought to the Donetsk city court," a court spokeswoman told reporters, referring to the Ukrainian woman by her Russian name.

Embassy staff from UK, US, Canada, Norway, Austria and the EU arrived in Donetsk but were not allowed to attend the opening of the trial.

The defence said they would ask the court to move the trial to Moscow and away from a town close to a conflict zone.

"Going to Donetsk. Taking a flak jacket with me," one of Savchenko's lawyers, Mark Feigin, said on Twitter.

On top of that, Donetsk has no jail and Savchenko would be transported to hearings from Novocherkassk, a city located about two hours away by car.

Two journalists from Russian public broadcaster VGTRK, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, died from shelling on June 17, 2014, in Ukraine's Lugansk region.

Russian prosecutors accuse Savchenko of her involvement in the killing of the journalists in her capacity as a volunteer in a Ukrainian battalion.

The prosecution also accuses her of illegally crossing the border into Russia on June 23, 2014, where she was detained.

Savchenko has denied the claims and refused food for more than 80 days to protest her detention. She broke off her hunger strike in March because of severe health problems.

Her defence argues that data from phone bills confirmed that Savchenko had already been taken prisoner by separatists when the Russian journalists died, insisting she was taken to Russia against her will.

Moscow is prosecuting Savchenko despite diplomatic immunity she enjoys as a lawmaker and a member of the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Kiev accuses Russia of effectively kidnapping and smuggling her across the border, and Ukraine's General Prosecutor's office on Wednesday announced it suspected six Russian officials of taking part in her detention and prosecution.

Ilya Novikov, another of Savchenko's lawyers, said that Russia's first deputy foreign minister was among them.

© 2015 AFP

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