Ukrainian military officer, member of the Ukrainian Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Mark Feygin, Nikolai Polozov, and Ilya Novikov
- complicity in the murder of two or more persons (Part Five of Article 33; clauses ‘а,’ ‘e,’ ‘zh,’ and ‘l’ of Part Two of Article 105 of the Russian Criminal Code),
- complicity in the attempted murder of two or more persons committed by a generally dangerous method committed by reason of political hatred (Part Three of Article 33; clauses ‘а,’ ‘e,’ ‘zh,’ and ‘l’ of Part Two of Article 105 of the Code),
- illegal crossing of the Russian border (Part One of Article 322 of the Code)
June 18, 2014
May 25, 2016
- 22-year imprisonment in general regime colony,
- fine of 30,000 Russian rubles (roughly $450)
Nadiya Savchenko took part in the operations against the Russian invaders and Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk Oblast as a volunteer of the ‘Aidar’ Battalion of the Ukrainian military. While carrying out an operational mission, she was captured by the militants of the ‘LNR’ group near the village of Metalist, Slovianoserbsk District.
Later Savchenko would tell that she was kidnapped and secretly transported from Ukraine to the territory of Russia with a bag on her head. For seven days, she was forcibly held in a hotel in the city of Voronezh. There she was questioned many times as a witness by the Russian detective Dmitriy Manshyn, who would later ‘investigate’ the criminal case against her.
Even before the first news regarding the capture of Savchenko arrived in Ukraine, on July 2, 2014, a court chose for her a measure of restraint in the form of arrest. Nadiya’s interests were represented by a court-assigned lawyer, who virtually acted to the advantage of the prosecution. Thanks to the interference of the Ukrainian officials, the independent lawyers Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov entered the case.
Following the prolongation of her arrest for another two months, Savchenko was sent to the infamous Serbsky Institute in Moscow for a forensic psychiatric assessment. Then she was transferred to Moscow remand jail #6. Savchenko declared herself a prisoner of war.
In the autumn of 2014, during the Ukrainian parliamentary elections, she was number one in the list of Yulia Tymoshenko’s ‘Batkivshchyna’ (‘Fatherland’) party and became an MP. On January 26, 2015, she was conferred the status of a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Contrary to its international obligations, Russia ignored Savchenko’s newly-acquired diplomatic immunity and continued to keep her in custody.
Initially, Nadiya was groundlessly charged with the murder of the Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin. Those journalists had entered the war zone without requesting the permission of the Ukrainian authorities in order to make reports about the advance of the separatist troops into the Ukrainian territory. According to the first version of the investigation, Savchenko had allegedly served as a fire spotter during a mortar attack which had caused the death of the journalists. Later the charges would be requalified under the articles for complicity in both murder and attempted murder. On April 24, 2015, Nadiya was additionally accused of ‘illegally crossing the Russian border.’
The detectives repeatedly put obstacles for Savchenko’s defense and resorted to unlawful measures. In particular, the interrogations in the Voronezh hotel were conducted without a lawyer, which was an infringement of her rights. The forced keeping of her there without a court order constituted a criminal offense. Nadiya’s sister Vira Savchenko, the only witness for the defense, was barred from entry to Russia without any explanation (the ban was finally cancelled thanks to the reaction of the international community). Then a case was instituted against Vira allegedly for insulting a judge during the trial of the Ukrainians Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh in Chechnya, where she had acted as their public defender. During the next trip to Nadiya, Vira Savchenko was detained under that new case. The Ukrainian consuls and lawyers barely managed to free her and return back to Ukraine safe and sound.
When being in custody, Nadiya Savchenko repeatedly declared hunger strikes. In December 2015, she stated that her new hunger strike would last until the verdict would be passed. Two months later, on March 3, after the date of the last court session was postponed, she announced the start of a dry hunger strike.
At the time, hundreds of actions in support of Nadiya took place all over the world. Common activists and some members of the European Parliament started their own hunger strikes in solidarity with her. More than 270 prominent Western figures signed an open letter calling on the European leaders to demand Russia free Savchenko. The letter was authored by Nobel Prize winners, writers, academics, politicians, public figures, philosophers, and artists who represented no less than twenty countries. US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power, the Australian Labor Party, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini urged Russia to release the Ukrainian prisoner. Russia simply ignored the demands of the world community. On March 10, Nadiya terminated a dry hunger strike and began drinking water but was eating no food nonetheless.
Despite the huge support worldwide, Savchenko’s recognition as a political prisoner, her long hunger strikes, numerous protests of the Ukrainian government and international politicians, she got a guilty verdict from the Russian court. On March 22, 2016, the Donetsk court of the Rostov Oblast sentenced her to 22-year imprisonment in a colony and a fine of 30,000 rubles (roughly $450).
However, her lawyers did not lose hope and confidently stated that Savchenko would be free soon. Her release was negotiated at the highest level, and the date of her exchange was postponed several times. On May 25, 2016, Savchenko was ‘pardoned’ based on President Putin’s decree, exchanged for the two Russian intelligence officers Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, and hence returned to Ukraine.
- Accusation of murder of Russian journalists
The lawyers proved Savchenko’s alibi. The main proof of her being non-implicated in the murder of the two Russian journalists is her phone billing information received from Ukraine’s Security Service. Its analysis showed that at the time when the journalists had been killed, Nadiya had already been held by the pro-Russian separatists in the center of Luhansk. Therefore, she had in no way been related to the correction of fire that had cost life to the journalists.
In addition, the lawyers questioned several witnesses who had seen how Nadiya had been captured on June 17, 2014. The evidence they provided confirmed that the capture had taken place before the journalists had died. However, this evidence was not included in the case file ostensibly because the questioning took place in Ukraine, not Russia.
One more confirmation of Savchenko’s alibi came from astronomical calculations. The Main Astronomical Observatory of Ukraine carried out an expert analysis of the position of the sun at the moment of Savchenko’s capture, which indicated that she had already been prisoner when the fatal accident had happened. The Russian astronomer Olga Vozyakova came to the same conclusion. Yet those scientific arguments were not attached to the file alike.
In May 2015, two investigative experiments performed near Moscow showed that it had been impossible to distinguish the journalists from soldiers at the distance that, according to the detectives, had allegedly separated Savchenko from them. Following those findings, the charges against her were quietly rewritten and substituted with the supposed murder of the civilians in Luhansk Oblast.
- Charge of the attempted murder of two or more persons
Savchenko was accused of targeting a group of civilians, which included the two Russian journalists. It was said that several civilians had been near the site of the shelling but only the journalists had been killed. The lawyers managed to obtain the evidence regarding the death of the twelve people as resulting from the shelling, all of them had belonged to the so-called ‘LNR’ unit. This meant that the shelling was focused on the locations of the separatist militants, not on the civilians. The journalists had been killed because of their own negligent presence on the fire line.
- Charge of the illegal crossing of the Russian state border
This charge seemed to be just a mockery, because it was clear that Savchenko had been captured, and there was no convincing evidence that she had been released from captivity or managed to escape before she had found herself in the Russian territory.
The tortures were not used against Savchenko in Russia.