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Russians Tried Over Pro-Ukraine Skyscraper Stunt

The stunt was carried out at night.

MOSCOW -- The trial has begun in a Moscow court of five Russians charged with hate crimes over a stunt in which a Soviet star atop a Stalin-era skyscraper was painted in the yellow-and-blue colors of the Ukrainian flag.

A Ukrainian flag was also hoisted over the wedding-cake apartment tower near the Kremlin early on August 20, 2014.

The politically charged prank came amid rising tension between Moscow and Kyiv following Russia's takeover of Crimea and the start of the war between government forces and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The five defendants -- three men and two women -- have been charged with "vandalism and hooliganism aimed to destabilize the situation in Moscow and provoke hatred."

They could be sentenced to seven years in prison if convicted.

The stunt was carried out in the dark of night at a 32-story apartment building in a prominent spot downriver from the Kremlin -- one of Moscow's hulking, distinctive "seven sisters" buildings erected under dictator Josef Stalin.

Four defendants -- Anna Lepyoshkina, Yevgenia Korotkova, Aleksandr Pogrebov, and Aleksei Shirokozhukhov -- were detained within hours, and are accused of drawing attention to the flag and painted star by jumping from the 176-meter building with parachutes.

They pleaded not guilty at the hearing on August 17 at Moscow's Taganka district court.

The fifth defendant, Vladimir Podrezov, is accused of helping Ukrainian stunt daredevil Pavlo Ushyvets -- known by the nickname Mustang Wanted -- to paint the star and hoist the Ukrainian flag.

Podrezov pleaded "partially guilty," saying that he climbed on the top of the building without knowing of Ushyvets's plan to put up the flag.

Defense lawyers told RFE/RL on August 17 that their clients were simply thrill-seekers and had nothing to do with the stunt.

Ushyvets, who is in Ukraine, announced on Facebook two days after the stunt that he carried it out and said the defendants now on trial in Russia had nothing to do with it.

Ushyvets said that his action was meant to celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day, which is marked on August 24, and to honor Ukrainians who have died in the conflict in the east.

Ushyvets has also said that he is ready to face trial in Russia if the authorities release Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko, who is being tried in Russia on charges of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists who died while covering the conflict.

With reporting by
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