A Ukrainian court on Monday sentenced two Russian servicemen, captured in Ukrainian territory last May, to 14 years in prison on charges relating to their involvement in the pro-Russian separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The verdict from a panel of three judges read out in court said sergeant Aleksander Aleksandrov and captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev were guilty of participating in "an aggressive war" against Ukraine and committing "a terrorist attack."
The two soldiers stood impassively in a glass cage for defendants while the decision was read out, as journalists crowded into the cramped Kiev courtroom.
The soldiers' lawyers said they have not yet decided whether to appeal the verdict.
Kiev insists that the soldiers were serving as members of an elite Russian military intelligence unit when they were captured in the pro-Moscow separatist region of Luhansk in May 2015.
Russia denies sending troops to help rebel fighters and claims Sergeant Alexander Alexandrov and his commander, Captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev, had quit their Special Forces unit to take part in the fighting on their own initiative.
Ahead of the court session, Yerofeyev's lawyer said the verdict was an expected conclusion due to Ukraine’s wish to swap the servicemen for Ukrainians detained in Russia, including pilot Nadezhda Savchenko.
Nadezhda Savchenko has began refusing all food and liquids in protest at her sentence on April 6 and her health is believed to be deteriorating rapidly.
She is seen a national hero in Ukraine, but many in Russia consider her as a Ukrainian nationalist with the blood of civilians on her hands.
The verdict for the two Russian servicemen came after the sentencing of Savchenko to 22 years in a Russian prison in March.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed swapping the soldiers for the Kiev-born helicopter pilot who was convicted by a Russian court of alleged involvement in the killing of two Moscow reporters in the warzone.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Moscow was in contact with Kiev over a possible prisoner exchange for Savchenko, who says she was smuggled illegally into Russia to face trial there.