Kremlin slams Western 'hysteria' in Ukrainian pilot court case

The Kremlin says "hysteria" in Ukraine and the West over an imprisoned Ukrainian pilot — who called in co-ordinates for shelling that killed two Russian journalists — is interfering with resolving her court case.

Some speculate imprisoned pilot Nadiya Savchenko could be traded for 2 Russians facing trial in Ukraine

Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko looks out from a defendants' cage as she attends the verdict announcement at a court in the southern Russian town of Donetsk, on March 21, 2016. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman says "hysteria" in Ukraine and the West over imprisoned Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko is interfering with resolving her court case.

Dmitry Peskov, in remarks reported Saturday by the state news agency RIA Novosti, gave no details on what resolution measures were being considered. There is persistent speculation that she could be traded for two Russians who face trial in Ukraine on allegations they were active-duty soldiers working with Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Savchenko was sentenced on Tuesday to 22 years in prison for calling in co-ordinates for shelling that killed two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. The U.S., Western European countries and Ukraine have called for her release.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who said his country would never recognize the ruling of a "kangaroo court," said Putin had promised him some months ago that he would return Savchenko to Ukraine once the trial was over.

"The time has come to fulfil that promise," Poroshenko said in a statement following the ruling. "In turn, I am prepared to hand over to Russia the two Russian servicemen captured on our territory for taking part in armed aggression against Ukraine."

Savchenko has often worn traditional Ukrainian blouses during her court appearances in a gesture of defiance. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Russian officials have previously signalled they would be willing to consider a prisoner exchange.

​Peskov says "such a case can be resolved much more easily and quickly in quietness."

The trial took place 1,000 kilometres from Moscow, which Savchenko's lawyers say is proof that Russian authorities want her case kept out of the public eye, even though it will be Moscow who makes the ultimate decision, said Ilya Novikov, a member of Savchenko's legal team.

Throughout her various court hearings and trial appearances, Savchenko has often worn traditional Ukrainian blouses in a gesture of defiance.

'Hero of Ukraine' and 'Daughter of the devil'

In prison for more than a year and a half — first in Moscow then in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia — Savchenko underwent two hunger strikes while in custody. Her first, last winter in Moscow, nearly killed her.

"Hunger is my only weapon in the fight against the outrageous actions of the Russian authorities," she said in a letter released by her lawyer.  

Throughout her ordeal, Savchenko has been called both a "hero of Ukraine" and a "daughter of the devil" — as well as plenty of other names. 

A woman holds a portrait of Savchenko during a demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Kiev on March 22, 2016. Savchenko has been labelled 'hero of Ukraine' and Joan of Arc by her supporters. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

A young, female military pilot is novel enough; by 2015, Savchenko was being labelled Joan of Arc, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko awarded her the country's highest award for bravery. She was elected in absentia to Ukraine's parliament.

Her case has garnered attention across Europe and North America, including in Canada.

"Canada and this house should join our American and European allies and pass a resolution demanding Nadiya's immediate return to Ukraine," said then-Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland, who is now minister of international trade. 

With files from CBC's Susan Ormiston and Reuters


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