DIRECT TRANSLATION: Nadiya Savchenko’s Lawyer Warns Putin She May Die in Moscow Prison

Ukrainian Officer-Pilot Reaches 45 Days on Hunger Strike Against Her Abduction and Politicized Trial

Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian army officer and pilot who was captured in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and spirited to prison in Moscow, may die in captivity there on the hunger strike she has pursued for 45 days, her lawyer wrote yesterday. As attorney Mark Feygin urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter to release Savchenko, her supporters mounted a global campaign of rallies and Twitter messages, and the European parliament members voted a resolution in her defense.

Savchenko was captured by pro-Russian rebels Ukraine’s Luhansk province last summer, and then hustled secretly across the border into Russia, handcuffed and with a bag over her head, she has told a Ukrainian consul. On July 9 Russia’s main prosecutorial agency—the Investigative Committee, which answers directly to Putin’s office—charged her with complicity in the killing of two Russian journalists, alleging that she transmitted their location to Ukrainian fighters who then targeted them with a mortar round.

Savchenko is one of several Ukrainians, including documentary filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, facing trial in Russia—Sentsov is accused of bombings, arson and terrorism—for their opposition to its occupation of Crimea and invasion of southeastern Ukraine.

Putin’s Public Relations Disasters

Putin declined to discuss Savchenko’s case when questioned about her last month in his annual press conference, saying simply that a Moscow court would decide her fate. And it is unclear whether he recognizes or cares that her continued detention has become one of the great public relations disasters of his war in Ukraine, along with last summer’s destruction of a Malaysian airliner by a Russian-built missile. Savchenko has become a Ukrainian national hero, been elected to parliament, and been designated a Ukrainian delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

In his letter, published on the website of Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, Savchenko’s lawyer Mark Feygin calls on Vladimir Putin “for law and justice.” He writes to Putin: “You, as a lawyer, should well know the one banal rule of jurisprudence … ‘When you don’t know how to proceed, act according to the law.’” (See a full translation of Feygin’s letter, below.)

Savchenko is weakening physically, Feygin writes. “It is frightening that during my last conversation with her in prison, I heard directly from her that she wants to die.”

Feygin says that proof of Savchenko’s innocence has not been seriously addressed by the court. Savchenko’s lawyers have submitted records from Savchenko’s cellphone showing that she made no calls, as she is accused of doing, to arrange the targeting of the journalists; that she was too far away from the mortar attack to have been involved—and that when the journalists died in the attack, she already had been in the custody of the Russian-backed separatists for more than an hour.
#FreeSavchenko Campaign

In September the Investigative committee subjected Savchenko to a psychiatric evaluation at the Serbsky Center, a Moscow psychiatric Moscow institute where Soviet authorities for years performed abusive treatments on political dissidents.

As Feygin’s letter was published yesterday, Ukrainians worldwide held rallies to demand Savchenko’s release. Using the hashtag  #FreeSavchenko they created a Twitter storm that aimed to reach one million tweets. In Strasbourg, France, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe challenged the credentials of the Russian delegation over what members said is Russia’s violation of the principles during the January 26 session for violations “of the basic principles of the Council of Europe.”

The independent Ukrainian news site Ukrainska Pravda reported that Russia was ready to release Savchenko if Moscow’s credentials to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly are honored.

Irena Chalupa covers Ukraine and Eastern Europe for the Atlantic Council.

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Image: Supporters of Ukraine’s Nadiya Savchenko mounted a Twitter campaign demanding that Russia release her. She is one of several Ukrainians facing trial in Moscow for the opposition to Russia’s invasions last year of Crimea and southeastern Ukraine. (Twitter/ #FreeSavchenko/