Savchenko says ready to negotiate with pro-Moscow separatists

27th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, freed from a Russian jail this week, on Friday said she is ready to negotiate with pro-Russian separatists on releasing prisoners.

"I am ready to talk to the devil himself to get every one of our people back," she said at her first news conference since her dramatic release, part of a prisoner swap with Moscow that drew a line under a major diplomatic spat.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on Thursday that 174 Ukrainians are currently imprisoned in Russia and Crimea or being held by rebels in east Ukraine.

"When they say that we should not engage with separatists politically, I don't think so. I will engage with everyone," said Savchenko, after first singing the Ukrainian national anthem.

"What would I say to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin? Hands off Ukraine! Hands off every country that you've grabbed hold of," she said.

She said she is "ready to fight and ready to make peace," adding that if separatist rebels are also ready to negotiate "then we will find a common understanding."

The 35-year-old army helicopter pilot, elected as an MP in absentia during almost two years in a Russian jail, also raised the possibility she could run for president.

"Ukrainians: if you need me to be president, very well, I will be president," she said.

But she added: "To be honest, I can't say I want to. I love to fly. But if it's necessary I will do anything."

Savchenko on Wednesday was swapped with two Russians accused by Kiev of serving in military intelligence, something Russia denies.

She received a hero's welcome on her return to Kiev.

The crop-haired Iraq war veteran has become a symbol to Ukrainians of resistance to Russia, which Kiev and the West accuse of militarily backing separatist rebels in the east.

She was sentenced to 22 years by a Russian court which found she informed Ukrainian forces of the location of television journalists who were killed in shelling in June 2014.

Savchenko has insisted on her innocence, saying that she was captured by separatist rebels before the men's deaths and then forcibly taken to Russia.

Savchenko said she had known nothing about her upcoming release until the last moment.

"They came in the middle of the night and said 'Get ready to leave with your belongings,'" she said.

"They didn't say where I was going. And I didn't know if I was going to Siberia or Magadan (regions notorious for their prison camps) -- or to Ukraine," she said.

© 2016 AFP

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