: After 708 days in captivity Ukrainian pilot is back in Ukraine
Volodymyr Solohub Volodymyr Solohub UT correspondent

19:42 May. 25, 2016

After 708 days in captivity Ukrainian pilot is back in Ukraine

Ukrainian jailed pilot Nadiya Savchenko listens as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks after she was awarded with the Hero of Ukraine medal in the Presidential Office in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 25, 2016. (AP Photo)

Nadiya Savchenko returns from Russia in prisoner swap deal

by Volodymyr Solohub

708 days. That's how long the most-known Ukrainian prisoner spent in Russian captivity. May 25th was the last day Nadiya Savchenko had to endure in Russia. This Wednesday, she returned home - to Ukraine. Savchenko was released as part of the prisoner swap arranged between Kyiv and Moscow. The Ukrainian pilot and a Member of Parliament was exchanged for two Russian special forces agents detained in eastern Ukraine in May 2015. The exchange was unannounced and details of the swap remain private.

Ukrainian Armed Forces officer Nadiya Savhcneko was detained by the Russian-backed separatist troops in Luhansk region of Ukraine in June of 2014. According to court testimony, Savchenko was held hostage by the militants for several days, then she was forcibly taken to Russia and handed over to the local authorities.

The Russian Federation did not waste any time accusing the Ukrainian officer of murder. Savchenko was dubbed the prime suspect in the killing of two Russian journalist - a charge that she vigorously and continuously denied.

Between June 2014 and July 2015, while the Russian prosecutors were building their case, Nadiya Savchenko won a seat at the Ukrainian Parliament in absentia. She also became a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the council of Europe, which should have given her immunity from prosecution. However, that did not sway Russian authorities.

Despite numerous calls from international leaders and mounting pressure from humanitarian organizations, the release of Nadiya Savchenko was not anywhere on the horizon.

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There were times when it seemed Russia was willing to back off – the international pressure which resulted in economic sanctions was taking a huge toll on the Russian economy while further damaging the Kremlin's position in the world. But President Putin stood firm in his stance – the mock trial of Nadiya Savchenko went on without a hitch.

And while the lawyers were fighting the legal battles and politicians political ones, Savchenko was fighting for her life – she went on and off hunger strikes a number of times and her health deteriorated. In the midst of the trial Ukraine Today spoke to one of Savchenko's lawyers – Mr. Illya Novikov.

But while the defence team had a strong case and evidence of Savchenko's innocence, it was clear that the Russian court had already set its mind:

There were not many options left on the table. It seemed that the only way for Savchenko to gain her freedom back was to be swapped for Russian citizens detained in Ukraine. However, in order to get to the exchange point - Savchenko had to be convicted by the Russians first. And that did not take long, on March 9, 2016, Nadiya Savchenko was granted her last word in the Russian court and she did not hold back.

On March 22, 2016, when the attention of the entire world was focused on the deadly terror attacks in Brussels, the Russian court found Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko guilty on charges of complicity in the deaths of two Russian journalists and of crossing the Russian border illegally. Savchenko was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

On the same day Oleksandr Pavlichenko, a human-rights advocate stated during our interview that by sentencing Nadiya Savchenko to more than twenty years in prison, the Russian government delivered a strong message to the international community saying 'We will do whatever we want!'.

Nadiya Savchenko in many ways resembles Ukraine itself. She may seem weak on the outside but actually is strong and defiant. Her iron will and her readiness to die for what she believes in make her a true defender of European rights and freedoms. Just like Savchenko, Ukraine stood up to Kremlin's aggression, let's just hope that the world will force Russia to let Ukraine live in peace as well.

This is Volodymyr Solohub for Ukraine Today

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