Russian court begins delivering verdict in Ukraine pilot trial

Prosecutors have demanded 23 years in jail for army helicopter pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was serving in a pro-Kiev volunteer battalion fighting pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine at the time.

Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko appears in a Russian court on March 21, 2016 for her alleged involvement in the killing of two Russian state TV journalists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. APTN via AP
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Donetsk, Russia // A Russian court yesterday began delivering its verdict in the high-profile murder trial of Ukrainian helicopter pilot Nadiya Savchenko, which Kiev and the West have slammed as a political sham.

Prosecutors are demanding a 23-year jail term for Savchenko’s alleged involvement in the killing of two Russian state TV journalists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Few doubt that the 34-year-old combat helicopter navigator – who denies the charges and says she was abducted and smuggled into Russia – will be found guilty. Kiev is already pushing for a prisoner swap.

The judge began by reading out the prosecution allegations that Savchenko acted as a “spotter” in the fatal shelling of journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin in June 2014, just two months after the start of the pro-Kremlin uprising in Ukraine’s industrial east.

At the time, she was serving in a volunteer pro-Kiev battalion fighting the insurgents.

Since her arrest, Savchenko has become a national hero in Ukraine and has even been elected to parliament in absentia.

Footage from the courtroom showed a relaxed-looking Savchenko chatting with her lawyers from inside the glass-fronted defendants’ cage as the judge read out the ruling.

The reading of the verdict is set to last through Tuesday.

Early reports from Russian new agencies appeared to indicate incorrectly that Savchenko had been handed a definitive guilty verdict.

“You heard the first introductory and explanatory parts, some media hurried with the guilty verdict,” Savchenko’s lawyer Mark Feigin said during a break in proceedings.

“It will be guilty of course, you need not doubt that, there is no doubt and there will be a long sentence.”

Another of Savchenko’s lawyers, Nikolai Polozov, said his client would not appeal the court’s decision as she considered it “has nothing to do with justice” and would start refusing water 10 days after the verdict.

* Agence France-Presse