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Ukrainian Pilot on Trial in Russia Threatens Hunger Strike

  • Associated Press

FILE - Jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko (L) stands in a defendant's cage during a court hearing in the town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Sept. 29, 2015.

FILE - Jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko (L) stands in a defendant's cage during a court hearing in the town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Sept. 29, 2015.

An imprisoned Ukrainian pilot on trial in Russia has threatened to go on hunger strike unless she is extradited back home after the verdict, her sister says.

Closing arguments in the trial of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko begin on Wednesday, and the verdict is due shortly. Russian authorities have indicated that they expect Savchenko, who is accused of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, to be found guilty.

Savchenko was fighting in a volunteer battalion against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine when she was captured by the rebels in June 2014. She has accused the rebels of kidnapping her and taking her across the border to Russia where she was jailed and charged as an accessory to murder.

Russian authorities insist that Savchenko provided the Ukrainian army with coordinates for the attack that killed the two journalists and several civilians before she was captured by the rebels. They say she then escaped from the separatists and crossed into Russia on her own, where she was detained.

The Ukrainian government has campaigned for Savchenko's release, claiming that the charges against her were trumped up and that she should be treated as a prisoner of war. Ukraine has been counting on getting her exchanged for Russians held captive in Ukraine. Russian officials have said Savchenko could in theory be exchanged but only after the verdict is in.

Savchenko's sister Vira said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week that Nadiya has pledged to go on hunger strike unless she is sent back home.

“If there is no action like extradition 10 days after the verdict, Nadiya will go on hunger strike,” Vira Savchenko told the AP. “She does not plan to lodge an appeal, and she will not wait for the (Russian) Supreme Court's verdict, because there is no justice.”

Since her detention, the 34-year old professional pilot who previously served as a peacekeeper in Iraq has been elected into the Ukrainian parliament and voted as a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of Europe.

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