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Savchenko To Continue Hunger Strike As Court Delays Verdict

Savchenko Gives Court Defiant Gesture In Final Statementi
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March 09, 2016
Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko refused to recognize the authority of the Russian court where she is on trial for murder. In her final statement to the court, she said the Russian people would rise up to protest against President Vladimir Putin. She then jumped up on her bench and made an obscene gesture to the court. (RFE/RL's Russian Service)
WATCH: Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko refused to recognize the authority of the Russian court where she is on trial for murder. In her final statement to the court, she said the Russian people would rise up to protest against President Vladimir Putin. She then jumped up on her bench and made an obscene gesture to the court. (RFE/RL's Russian Service)

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By RFE/RL

Ukrainian pilot and parliament deputy Nadia Savchenko has told a Russian court she will continue her dry hunger strike after a tense hearing in which the judge postponed the verdict in her closely watched case until March 21.

A defiant Savchenko declared that she would recognize neither the court nor its verdict, before she stood on a bench inside the cage for defendants and raised her middle finger in the direction of the judge.

Savchenko emphasized that she is willing to continue the no-food, no-water hunger strike no matter what happens, saying, "You must understand that we are playing with my life; the stakes are high and I have nothing to lose."

She also said a popular uprising similar to Ukraine's Euromaidan movement is inevitable in Russia, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot hold on to power by means of people's blood."

Savchenko, 34, wore her trademark T-shirt with the Ukrainian trident symbol at the March 9 hearing in the court in the southern Russian city of Donetsk, near the border with the home country she has vowed to return to "dead or alive."

She is accused of acting as a spotter who called in coordinates for a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine in July 2014 that caused the deaths of two Russian journalists covering the conflict between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists.

Savchenko says she was captured by separatists in Ukraine and taken to Russia illegally by force.
 
Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence her to 23 years in prison and impose a fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,400). She is formally charged with murder, attempted murder, and illegally crossing Russia's border.
 
In the brief hearing on March 9, Savchenko's lawyer read out her closing statement, which she had been prevented from reading at a hearing on March 3. He then asked the court to deliver its verdict immediately.

READ: Savchenko's Closing Statement
 

The judge responded by saying the verdict would come only on March 21 and 22. At trials in Russia, it sometimes takes the judge more than a day to read out the lengthy verdict in the courtroom.
 
Savchenko, who appeared to be in good health at the hearing, has been on a dry hunger strike -- refusing all food and water -- since March 4. 

Nadia Savchenko lawyer says her "life is in danger."
Nadia Savchenko lawyer says her "life is in danger."

After the hearing, Savchenko lawyer Nikolai Polozov said on Twitter that the court had denied permission for Savchenko's family and Ukrainian doctors or Ukrainian consular officials to visit her before the sentencing hearing.

Polozov told Reuters that Savchenko's "life is in danger" and added, "As lawyers, our main task now is to enable Ukrainian doctors to get to her."

In her handwritten final statement, which was posted on Facebook after the previous hearing, Savchenko expressed hope for an agreement that would return her to Ukraine after the verdict but warned she would continue her hunger strike and vowed to return "dead or alive."
 
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists in Moscow on March 8 that there had been no negotiations with Kyiv regarding a possible prisoner swap involving Savchenko.
 
"This cannot happen -- either in theory or in practice -- until the court's decision," Zakharova said.
 
Savchenko has been held in custody in Russia since July 2014. Her trial began on September 22, 2015.
 
The charges against Savchenko stem from an incident on July 17, 2014, at a separatist checkpoint in the Luhansk region.

Savchenko was a volunteer with the Aidar Battalion and is accused of serving as a spotter for a mortar attack against the crowded checkpoint. Russian state television journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin were killed in the incident.
 
Savchenko denies involvement, and her lawyers say she was captured by separatists before the mortar attack took place. They also say it is illegal and outrageous for her to be tried in Russia.

'Free Nadia!'

Protesters in Ukraine, Russia, and around the world have stepped up calls in recent days for Russia to release Savchenko, as have Western governments. Ukraine on March 9 repeated its call for Savchenko's immediate release.

In the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, about 200 protesters threw eggs, stones, and small bottles of iodine at the Russian Consulate -- leaving brown stains on the building.

A Ukrainian parliament deputy, Volodymyr Parasyuk, removed the Russian flag from a pole in front of the consulate and tried to raise the Ukrainian national flag instead. Police did not let him.

Protests calling for Savchenko's release were also held in Kyiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Cherkasy, and other Ukrainian cities and towns.

In the Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, a total of about a dozen protesters rallied for Savchenko's release.

In St. Petersburg, activists raised large letters affixed to wooden planks to spell out "Save Nadezhda!" on the Neva River embankment in the city center.
 
Nadezhda is the Russian version of Savchenko's first name, which means "hope."
 
Activists told RFE/RL that the exhortation had two meanings -- a call for Savchenko’s release and for the preservation of hope for the future in Russia, which Putin’s critics say has been badly clouded by his actions over 16 years in power as president or prime minister. 

Volodymyr Parasyuk, a former Maidan activist and current lawmaker, tears away a Russian flag from the Russian Consulate during a rally in Lviv on March 9.
Volodymyr Parasyuk, a former Maidan activist and current lawmaker, tears away a Russian flag from the Russian Consulate during a rally in Lviv on March 9.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said on March 9 that five European Union countries had submitted an initiative calling for sanctions against targeted Russian officials in connection with the case.

The foreign ministers of Britain, Poland, Romania, and Sweden joined Linkevicius in signing the appeal addressed to EU foreign-policy chief Frederica Mogherini calling for sanctions in response to "this fabricated case."

Mogherini did not immediately respond to the sanctions appeal, but on March 9 she called on Russia to "immediately and unconditionally" release Savchenko "on humanitarian grounds" because of her deteriorating health.

More than 50 members of the European Parliament on March 8 signed a letter calling for sanctions against Putin and 28 other individuals in connection with Savchenko's "illegal" detention.
 
Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the International Affairs Committee in Russia’s upper parliament house, said on March 9 that the letter amounts to illegal pressure on a Russian court.
 
"This is a sheer political act by hard-core Russian detractors taken on the eve of a pending decision," Kosachyov said, according to Interfax.
  

In a statement on March 8, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Savchenko "a symbol of Ukrainian national pride and strength."
 
Biden said Savchenko has been "unjustly imprisoned" and that the United States is calling on Russia "to make the right choice -- to drop all charges and release her at once."
 
More than 50 members of the European Parliament on March 8 signed a letter calling for sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and 28 other individuals in connection with Savchenko's "illegal" detention.
 
Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the International Relations Committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said on March 9 that the letter amounted to "illegal" pressure on a Russian court.
 
"This is a sheer political act by hard-core Russian detractors taken on the eve of a pending decision," Kosachyov said, according to Interfax.

More than 9,100 civilians and combatants have been killed since April 2014 in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has diminished under a fragile cease-fire but the Russia-backed separatists continue to hold parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, including their capitals.

The war followed Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine after that country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, was pushed from power by protests over his decision to scrap plans for a landmark deal with the European Union and draw closer to Russia instead.

With reporting by Interfax, AP, TASS, and Novaya Gazeta

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