A Russian court declared Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko guilty of murder and sentenced her to 22 years in prison Tuesday, one year less than the prosecution requested.
Savchenko was charged with killing two Russian journalists in 2014 while fighting in a Ukrainian volunteer battalion in eastern Ukraine. Russian authorities have accused her of directing mortar fire that resulted in the journalists’ deaths and of “illegally crossing” into Russia. Ukrainian officials argue that Savchenko was abducted across the border by Russian-backed separatists before the attack occurred.
Savchenko has maintained that she is innocent since her capture. Still, her attorneys have said that she will not appeal the verdict.
Since her arrest, Savchenko has been openly defiant, singing the Ukrainian national anthem upon hearing her verdict, showing a middle finger to her Russian judges, and going on hunger strikes, one of which lasted 83 days. She has become a symbol of resistance for Ukrainians, who have been fighting Russian-backed separatists and Russian forces since 2014.
Ukrainian President Poroshenko said earlier this month that he was willing to participate in a prisoner exchange with Russia so that Savchenko could “come home.” Mikhail Fedotov, chair of Russia's Presidential Human Rights Council, said the Kremlin would consider participating in a prisoner exchange with Kiev after Savchenko's sentence.
Western officials including Secretary of State John Kerry have repeatedly expressed concern about the trial and the harsh conditions of Savchenko’s detention, which included “interrogations, solitary confinement, and forced “psychiatric evaluation.” Human Rights Watch has called the trial “unfair” and reported that the Russian court made it “impossible” for Savchenko’s attorneys to fight the allegations weighed against her.
Kerry will visit Moscow from March 22 to March 25.