Shaun Pinner: soldier facing firing squad said before invasion he was 'no war tourist'

Shaun Pinner is one of two Britons sentenced to death by Russia for fighting for Ukraine

British citizen Shaun Pinner has been sentenced to death for fighting for the Ukrainian Army.  AP Photo
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Six months before the Ukraine war began, former British soldier Shaun Pinner told the world why he would join the Ukraine Army.

He was no "war tourist", he said, just a happily married man whose wife is Ukrainian.

But now Pinner, fellow Briton Aiden Aslin and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim, face a death sentence in the Russian-backed and self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

On Thursday, the Englishmen were told they will face a firing squad for acts of terrorism after a trial in Russian-controlled east Ukraine after they were captured while fighting in the Ukrainian Army in Mariupol.

In January, Londoner Pinner, 48, and Aslin, 28, from the northern England town of Newark, put on record why they would be fighting for the Ukraine Army if war broke out.

"I'm married to a Ukrainian. I've got every right to be here," Pinner told Sky News.

"It's taken me a long time to integrate here, so the guys know I'm not a war tourist or war junkie.

"I can hear the shelling from my front room. [I'm not] just sitting around and going to go home at the end of it. I've been here, my family's here.

"If they come across the border, we're outgunned, we haven't got air superiority. We don't have a naval fleet, a very strong naval fleet. But Ukrainians fight, so we'll give them a bloody nose, that's for sure."

A former soldier in the British Army, Pinner previously volunteered to fight against ISIS in the Middle East and moved to Ukraine in 2017. He also served with United Nations’ missions in Bosnia.

His wife, Larysa, used Facebook to describe the “absurdity and cynicism of this rotten and false event called a ‘trial'".

“We also all understand that Russian propaganda uses this case to the fullest, and this circus will go on for a long time,” she wrote.

Aslin, a former care worker, joined the Kurdish militia group YPG after learning of the ISIS genocide against the Yazidi.

He was twice arrested on his return to Britain and charged with terrorism. Both times the charges were dropped.

While fighting, Aslin met a Ukrainian volunteer who told him of his country's plight and in 2018 he joined the Ukrainian marine infantry and before the war had completed three tours of the Donbas front line.

Before the war, he gained dual Ukrainian citizenship and was planning to marry his fiancee, an English teacher in the Ukraine Naval Training Centre, and start a new life in the country.

Today, both men, and Brahim, are caught in a diplomatic battle as British politicians try to have their sentences overturned as their lawyers lodge appeals.

On Friday, the governor of the Luhansk region of Ukraine, Sergiy Gaiday, said that both Englishmen would have signed official documentation upon joining the Ukrainian armed forces and that the verdict is therefore “not applicable to them, even if they are not Ukrainians”.

“All the people who come to fight on the Ukrainian side sign documents with the armed forces of Ukraine, hence they acquire official status," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“That’s why they are subject to the Geneva Convention if they’re taken as prisoners of war.

“This kind of verdict is not applicable to them, even if they are not Ukrainians.

“From what I know, the lawyers already appealed against this verdict and I believe what is happening is just political pressure coming from Russia.”

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was expected to discuss what she called the “sham judgment” with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on Friday.

“I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine," Ms Truss said.

“They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.

“My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them.”

There were concerns that making their case a bilateral issue between the UK and Russia would assist Moscow in its legal position that the men are mercenaries and not entitled to protection under international law.

Britain said that they are members of the Ukrainian Army and should be treated as prisoners of war.

Aslin’s family is urging Britain and Ukraine to “do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely”, insisting the two men are not mercenaries.

British citizen Shaun Pinner in court after his capture by Russian forces. Reuters

“We love Aiden with all our hearts. He and Shaun, as members of Ukrainian armed forces, should be treated with respect, just like any other prisoners of war," Aslin’s family said in a statement.

“They are not, and never were, mercenaries.

“We hope that this sentence will be overturned and beseech the governments of the UK and Ukraine to do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely, and soon.

“We can only imagine what they are going through right now."

Downing Street said it is “deeply concerned” by the situation.

“We have said continually that prisoners of war shouldn’t be exploited for political purposes,” a spokesman said.

“Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and they should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.

British citizens Aiden Aslin, left, and Shaun Pinner, right, and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim, centre, in a courtroom in Donetsk. AP Photo

“So we will continue to work with the Ukrainian authorities to try to secure the release of any British nationals who were serving in the Ukrainian armed forces and who are being held as prisoners of war.”

Government Minister Robin Walker said dialogue with Russia is also needed.

“We need to do everything we can at a diplomatic level to make representations to Russia, to show our support to Ukraine, but also to show our support to the families of these people, and I understand that’s what my colleagues at the Foreign Office are doing," he told Times Radio.

“We have to be very clear who is responsible for this ― both for the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and for this sham trial by a government which doesn’t have authority, and that’s, of course, Russia.

“Russia needs to take responsibility, its responsibilities under the Geneva Convention, for the treatment of prisoners of war.”

Aslin and Pinner were both members of regular Ukrainian military units fighting in Mariupol, the southern port city that was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine.

Another Briton, Andrew Hill, from Plymouth, is also accused of being a mercenary and could also be sentenced to death.

Updated: June 11, 2022, 5:35 AM