Ukraine pilot jailed in Russia refuses to end hunger strike

Lawyers of jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko say she refuses to end hunger strike until repatriated back to Ukraine from Russia

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Ukrainian airforce helicopter navigator Nadezhda (Nadiya) Savchenko, reacts during a hearing at a court in the southern Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov region, on March 2, 2016.

Jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko on Friday refused to give up a hunger strike, after rejecting food and water in protest at delays in her controversial murder trial in Russia, her lawyers said.

Two journalists from Russian public broadcaster VGTRK died in shelling in June 2014, in Ukraine's eastern Lugansk region.

Prosecutors say Savchenko was involved in the killing in her capacity as a volunteer in a Ukrainian battalion.

She denies the charges and says she was kidnapped and smuggled into Russia.

Savchenko, 34, is demanding she be repatriated to Ukraine after a judge in the southern Russian town of Donetsk on Thursday unexpectedly postponed her final address to court as her trial over the 2014 killing of two Russian journalists in east Ukraine nears an end.

Savchenko's defence lawyers visited her Friday at her detention centre in southern Russia but failed to persuade her to stop the hunger strike.

"Our arguments did not work," lawyer Nikolai Polozov told AFP. "Her only demand is that she be immediately returned to Ukraine."

He added that Savchenko was refusing to allow prison officials or doctors to touch her and any attempts to force-feed her would be seen by her as "torture."

He said she had not been drinking water since the trial was adjourned.

Her supporters are concerned that by refusing to drink water she may damage her health irreparably or not live long enough to attend the next hearing set for Wednesday.

Refusing both food and water is known in Russia as a "dry hunger strike" and was a method of last resort for some Soviet dissidents under Communism.

Savchenko has fasted before to protest the accusations against her but has never before refused both food and water.

She has already refused food for more than 80 days but broke off her hunger strike in March last year because of severe health problems.

Polozov said her defence team would not be able to visit her this weekend and during subsequent public holidays on Monday and Tuesday in Russia.

'Not on our agenda'

If she is not in court on Wednesday, her lawyers would start looking for her in local hospitals, Polozov said.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman declined to comment on Savchenko's decision to refuse food and water.

"This is not an issue that has anything to do with our agenda," said Dmitry Peskov.

But few doubt that her fate will be decided in the Kremlin, and Western leaders as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have called on Putin to let Savchenko go.

On Wednesday, the prosecution requested a 23-year prison sentence for Savchenko and a fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,360).

Savchenko has been elected in absentia to Ukraine's parliament since being held in Russia.

Initially she had planned to launch a hunger strike after the verdict, according to a message on her Facebook page.