Natalia Arno

President of Free Russia Foundation

NADIYA SAVCHENKO, UKRAINIAN HOPE

She was supposed to be a symbol of a Ukrainian war criminal according to the Kremlin’s plan. Instead, she has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s aggression and for its European choice.

Nadiya Savchenko is a Ukrainian female pilot, a member of Ukrainian Parliament and a delegate to the PACE. She is a Ukrainian citizen who was unlawfully kidnapped in Ukraine on June 17, 2014 and later illegally transferred to the Russian Federation.

Her life story is worthy of respect, admiration and even of a Hollywood blockbuster. Nadiya Savchenko is the only female military pilot of the Ukrainian army. She joined the Ukrainian Army in 2004. During the conflict in Iraq, she went to serve with the Ukrainian peacekeeping mission and was the only female Ukrainian soldier in the country. After her six months assignment in Iraq ended, Savchenko petitioned the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to be admitted to the prestigious Air Force University in Kharkiv, a military university that was open until that point only to male students. She graduated from the University in 2009 and in 2010 was posted to Brody, Lviv region to serve in the 3rd Army Aviation Regiment. In 2014, Savchenko took time off to volunteer to fight in the “Aidar” Battalion that was operating under the authority of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

On June 17, 2014 Savchenko was kidnapped in Ukraine. Later, on June 23, she was forcefully brought to the territory of the Russian Federation, blindfolded and handcuffed, and transferred to the custody of Russian law enforcement agents. Until June 30, she was detained in a hotel room under armed guard without any access to a lawyer, family, Ukrainian consulate or chance to leave the room. On June 30, the Russian Government “officially” arrested her.

Until now, Savchenko remains in custody in Russia facing trumped-up charges in the accessory to the murder of two Russian journalists in Eastern Ukraine. Recently it was expanded to an attempt to kill more civilians who were able to leave the scene of the mortar fire she was allegedly targeting. The other charge against her is even more laughable – she has been charged with an illegal crossing of Russia’s border.

Mark Feygin and her other attorneys, Nikolai Polozov and Ilya Novikov, provided the court and investigation with irrefutable evidence of her innocence. The time of her detention, location at the time of the alleged crime, phone billings, and witnesses’ testimony prove her innocence. All of the evidence proves she was already in custody and miles away at the time of journalists’ deaths. However, we have to admit that there is no independent court in Russia and as a result, all the evidences of Nadiya’s innocence has been neglected by Russian investigators and prosecutors.

In October 2014, during the Ukrainian parliamentary elections, Nadiya Savchenko was placed first on the Batkivshchyna party list and was elected as a member of the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament of Ukraine. After being elected as a parliamentarian, Savchenko resigned from the Ukrainian army, took an oath and was sworn in as a member of parliament by her lawyer while being detained in the Russian prison. On December 26, 2014, Savchenko became a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and as a PACE representative was subsequently granted diplomatic immunity. PACE adopted a resolution on January 28, 2015 calling for Ms. Savchenko’s immediate release.

Protesting her illegal incarceration, as well as falsified charges, on December 13, 2014, Nadiya Savchenko declared a hunger strike, which she continued until March 6, 2015. She suspended it for ten days as a condition for Ukrainian doctors to be allowed to conduct her medical examination. On March 16, 2015 Savchenko resumed her hunger strike and stopped it on April 5, 2015.

Right now her health is in a very dangerous condition. Her internal organs have significantly suffered from a long period of food deprivation. The hunger strike might have led to irreparable harm to her health, and her physical and psychological integrity.

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Nadiya Savchenko’s fate is at the center of intense public attention in Ukraine and throughout the world. Along with ongoing reporting in traditional media, a number of coordinated, impassioned social media campaigns have highlighted her as a Ukrainian hero and have joined together calling on the Kremlin to release her. There were three Global Free Savchenko Days (January 26, March 1 and today, May, 11) with Twitter storms and rallies for her release near Russian consulates around the world. The hashtag #FreeSavchenko is used by millions of social media users.

Our Free Russia Foundation has joined the global action in support of Nadiya Savchenko and assists her legal team in the advocacy campaign for her. We’ve organized two trips of Savchenko’s lawyers to the U.S. In December 2014, Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov were in Washington, DC and New York to meet with representatives of the United Nations organization, members and staff of the U.S. Congress and other official institutions, conduct briefings for leading think tanks and give interviews for the U.S. media outlets. In April 2015, there was another visit by Mark Feygin to the U.S. The level of meetings was quite impressive and included Samantha Power, U.S. Mission to the UN, Ukrainian and Lithuanian missions (current Chair) to the UN, Senators McCain, Johnson and Ernst, congressmen Mike Fitzpatrick, Marcy Kaptur, Sander Levin, Albio Sires and William Keating. We also met with representatives of Helsinki and Tom Lantos Commissions. There were numerous other meetings and interviews.

In partnership with Open Society Foundations and Center for Human Rights of the American Bar Association we conducted the panel on legal aspects of Savchenko’s case and the briefing for the Atlantic Council. In New York, Nadiya’s mother – Maria Savchenko – joined us in our campaign for her daughter. We were delighted to meet and receive support from Ukrainian diaspora groups.

There was overall support and understanding of the seriousness of Savchenko’s issue. She is the most high-profile Russian POW in its war against Ukraine, but not the only one. There are other Ukrainian officers and soldiers in Russian prisons. The Minsk protocol doesn’t work in their case, and the exchange of ‘hostages’ takes place only between separatists and the Kiev government. Russia denies its participation in the war. However, we all understand it’s not so. Endless media articles and military reports on this subject, political statements of Ukrainian, European and American politicians, presence of POWs on the Russian territory, the Nemtsov report, which will be released tomorrow, and mountains of evidence show Russia’s direct involvement in the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Everybody understands everything, but Real Politik prevails over justice.

On the other hand, there is a deadlock. With Russia’s denial to admit its engagement into the events developing in Eastern Ukraine, the conflict has a status of an “internal Ukrainian conflict.” We face the West’s indecision and slowness to classify the conflict as “international.” Everybody understands everything, but Real Politik prevails over justice. Nevertheless, we’ll keep working on the recognition of Savchenko as a POW, and on the categorization of the conflict as international.

Savchenko’s case is also important because until recently, it was a part of a larger case of Russia against at least sixty-two Ukrainian officials. While the West is being too sluggish and cautious, the Kremlin is collecting material against the Kiev government including fabricated written testimonies of refugees. Why? To be ready to defend its position in an international tribunal case like in former Yugoslavia? Or rather to launch an offensive, a real military one, plus propaganda attack with new narratives of how aggressive and criminal the Kiev government is and what a peacekeeper and a liberator the Kremlin is?

We believe Savchenko’s prosecution should immediately cease and she should be immediately released given the lack of elements of a crime in her actions, and according to international legal grounds – her POW and a delegate of PACE status, which grant her immunity from prosecution. We urge the competent authorities of the Russian Federation to cease the prosecution of Nadiya Savchenko and immediately release her from custody. We also call for an investigation into her kidnapping from the territory of Ukraine and the fabrication of a criminal case against her. We urge the international community and the democratic countries of the West to exert pressure on Russia in connection with the case of Nadiya Savchenko.

This is how her acquaintance with Russia started – from captivity to custody.

Today is Nadiya Savchenko’s birthday. She has never been to Russia before her abduction and transfer to a Russian jail. This is how her acquaintance with Russia started – from captivity to custody. She was supposed to be a symbol of a Ukrainian war criminal according to the Kremlin’s plan. Instead, she has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s aggression and for its European choice. Nadiya Savchenko from being a local hero has turned into a global hero admired on all the continents. Savchenko is Ukrainian hope for the better future. #FreeSavchenko!