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Ukraine Sentences 2 Russian Fighters to 14-Year Prison Terms


A demonstrator holds a picture of Ukranian army officer captured by pro-Russian insurgents, Nadiya Savchenko, bearing the slogan "Free Nadiya Savchenko" during a rally on Independence Square in Kiev on Jan. 26, 2015.

A Ukraine court has sentenced two Russian fighters captured last year in Ukraine territory to 14-year prison terms for their participation in the deadly pro-Russian rebellion that erupted in eastern Ukraine two years ago.

A three-judge panel in Kyiv issued the sentences Monday, saying defendants Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev participated in an "aggressive war" against Ukraine. For its part, Moscow -- which has repeatedly denied sending troops into Ukraine -- insists the two defendants were serving as volunteers in the conflict after resigning from the Russian military.

Many analysts have suggested the two Russians will become part of a prisoner exchange under which they could be returned to their homeland in exchange for the release of Ukraine helicopter pilot Nadezhda Savchenko.

The 34-year-old Savchenko is serving a 22-year prison term in Russia, after a Russian court last month found her guilty of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists who were reporting on the conflict in 2014.

Both Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin say they conferred about the two Russians and the Ukraine pilot. But no further details of those talks have been disclosed.

The trial of the two Russians stoked controversy that erupted into violence last month, when the attorney for defendant Aleksandrov was murdered by two Ukrainian suspects now in custody.

Separately, unidentified assailants earlier this month firebombed the Kyiv office of the Ukrainian judge overseeing the trial.

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