After nearly two years in detention, the trial in Russia of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko is drawing to a close. She faces a long jail term for involvement in the murder of two Russian journalists in Ukraine.
Russia's state prosecutor on Wednesday demanded a 23-year prison sentence for Savchenko.
A first lieutenant in the Ukrainian Ground Forces, Savchenko was fighting in a volunteer battalion when she was captured by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine in June 2014 and handed over to Russian authorities. They charged her with providing the Ukrainian army with coordinates for an attack that killed two journalists and several civilians.
"If they wore helmets and flak jackets, they would have remained alive," Savchenko said in remarks provided by her defense teams. The two journalists from Russian public broadcaster VGTRK, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, died in shelling on June 17, 2014, in Ukraine's Lugansk region.
According to one of her lawyers, Ilya Novikov, Savchenko has asked for the 23-year sentence because authorities could appeal a lighter sentence, the Tass news agency reported.
Savchenko is expected to make her last address to the court on Thursday. Wearing a traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirt in court this week, the pilot reiterated her innocence, saying she was a Ukrainian officer and had every right to defend her homeland.
The 34-year-old also threatened to resume a hunger strike if the judge took more than two weeks to prepare and announce the verdict. She has already refused food and water for 80 days to protest her detention.
"You would deliver the verdict posthumously, without me," an emotional Savchenko told the court. "You have not broken me and will never break me."
Pilot and parliamentarian
In November 2014, Savchenko was elected, in absentia, to Ukraine's parliament.
Her lawyer, Mark Feygin, said she is a prisoner of war and has called on the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations to demand her immediate release. After more than a year in detention, Savchenko was put on trial last summer in the small southern Russian town of Donetsk, on the border with Ukraine.
Kyiv accused Russia of kidnapping and smuggling her across the border.
jm/sms (AP, AFP)