A Russian court on Monday (21 March 2016) began declaring its verdict in the case of Ukrainian militia member Nadia Savchenko, who is accused of involvement in the death of two Russian journalists in war-torn east Ukraine.
Military pilot Savchenko, 34, is accused of directing artillery fire that led to the death of journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who worked for a Russian state broadcaster. Initial Russian media reports claimed that Savchenko had been found guilty. However several news organisations were forced to retract stories prematurely reporting the verdict when it was revealed that the judge had in fact been reading out the prosecution case.
In a Twitter statement, Savchenko's lawyer Nikolai Polozov criticised Russian media for declaring his client guilty before the Donetsk court had announced its decision. "The court has not yet moved on to the question of guilt in the announcement of the judgement, and leading Russian media have already written about the guilt of Savchenko," he tweeted.
Later Mark Ferigin, another member of her defence team, said that whatever the verdict of the court, Savchenko would not recognise its legitimacy, and would resume her hunger strike. "Savchenko is not interested in this verdict, she considers it a kangaroo court. She has just told me that she does not recognize it, whatever it is, she will not appeal it", he said during a break in court proceedings, reported the TASS news agency.
Previously, Savchenko has gone on hunger strike for up to 80 days to protest her detention and the conditions of her imprisonment. Feigin said that she would refude to east solid food, and would only consume water and infant formulas.
The two journalists were killed in June 2014 as fighting raged between pro-government forces and separatist forces in east Ukraine. Savchenko had joined a pro-government militia days before the deaths, and was charged with acting as a spotter for the artillery unit that killed the journalists after being captured by pro-Moscow rebels.
Prosecutors are seeking a 23-year sentence for Savchenko, who they describe as driven by "political hatred". However Savchenko's defence team claims that her telephone records prove that she was captured before the journalists were killed and smuggled into Russia, where the false accusations were levelled at her.
Savchenko is widely expected to be declared guilty, with the Ukrainian government believed to be preparing to offer a prisoner swap deal once the verdict is announced. "It will be guilty, of course, you need not doubt that, there is no doubt, and there will be a long sentence," Feigin, told reporters, AFP has reported.
During her imprisonment, Savchenko has become a celebrated figure of Ukrainian resistance and was elected to parliament in Kiev in her absence. The court is expected to finish delivering the judgement on Tuesday.