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Verdict date set in trial of Ukrainian pilot Savchenko

A Russian judge says Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko's verdict will be handed down on March 21 and 22. Savchenko, charged with involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists, is on a hunger strike.

The judge presiding over Savchenko's trial in the Russian town of Donetsk said on Wednesday that the reading of the verdict would begin on March 21 and take two days.

The announcement comes as Kyiv again called for her release.

"We demand that the Russian side immediately release [...] Savchenko and halt this farcical trial," Ukrainian foreign ministry spokeswoman Mariana Betsa said in a tweet.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was quoted on the government's website as calling Savchenko's trial "a challenge to the entire civilized world," adding that the "entire world community" should work to free the pilot.

'Violation of international standards'

Germany on Wednesday joined Ukraine in calling for Savchenko to be freed, saying that her trial went against the Minsk agreement, a peace deal aimed at ending the current separatist conflict in Ukraine.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Savchenko's trial violated a clause in the accord that requires Ukraine and Russia to swap prisoners and hostages.

He also said Germany was following the trial closely amid concerns that the 34-year-old pilot had been subjected to "questionable interrogation methods that violated international standards."

'Health deteriorating'

Savchenko was captured in June 2014 while fighting with a Ukrainian volunteer battalion against Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. She is accused by Russian prosecutors of having provided coordinates for a mortar attack that killed two Russian state television journalists.

She could face up to 23 years in prison if convicted.

The pilot has denied the charges and on Wednesday pledged in her final address to the court to continue a hunger strike

she began last Thursday,

from now on refusing both food and water - known in Russia as a "dry hunger strike." This form of protest was used as a last-resort method by some dissidents in the former Soviet Union.

One of her lawyers, Nikolai Polozov, said that her health had deteriorated greatly over the past few days and that she was suffering from fever.

Ukraine Kiew Protest Opposition Plakat Nadija Sawtschenko

Kyiv has seen several protests calling for Savchenko's release

Unlawful detention?

The legitimacy of Russia's detention of Savchenko has also been called into question, with the pilot saying that she was kidnapped and smuggled over the border from Ukraine.

She has become a hero for many Ukrainians as a symbol of resistance to what Kyiv's leaders see as Russian aggression in the east of the country, with Moscow accused by many of actively backing a rebellion there.

In October 2014, she was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in absentia.

tj/msh (AP, AFP)

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