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Ukrainian Pilot Defiant In Moscow Court As Detention Extended


Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko looks out from a defendant's cage during a hearing in Moscow on February 10.
Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko looks out from a defendant's cage during a hearing in Moscow on February 10.

A Moscow court has extended the pretrial detention period for Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko until May 13.

Savchenko, who is on the 60th day of a hunger strike to protest her detention, has been charged by Russian officials of involvement in a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists who were killed while covering the conflict between the rebels and government forces.

Savchenko was captured by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in June and taken to Russia in July.

Motions by Savchenko's lawyers to replace the judge, Artur Karpov, and to have their client released on bail until the trial were rejected by the court.

Asked by Karpov about her health, Savchenko said, "You'll wait in vain" -- a retort by which she meant that the Russian authorities are hoping for her death but that she will not die soon.

Savchenko, 32, told the Moscow court, "I will continue the hunger strike, which has lasted for more than 60 days and will continue it until I'm taken back in Ukraine or until I die."

Savchenko, looking pale and gaunt and wearing a T-shirt with a Ukrainian trident design, spoke from behind the bars of a courtroom cage.

She cried out, "Glory to Ukraine!" as she was led to the court by armed guards with a large dog.


A lawyer for Savchenko, Ilya Novikov, asked the court to release her, saying he fears for her life if she remains in detention.

"She is in no condition to live this way for three more months," Novikov said.

He said Savchenko had no intention of ending her hunger strike while behind bars, saying she was motivated by "the illegal actions of the investigators."

She says Russia has no right to hold or try her.

Novikov said Savchenko was hooked up to an intravenous drip daily, which is keeping her health from deteriorating faster.

"The inside of her elbows are swollen from the IV needle," he said.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Russia has said it would provide Savchenko with accommodation on its territory during the investigation if she is placed under house arrest, her Ukrainian lawyer Viktor Chevguz said.

But one of the Russian investigators in her case said if Savchenko's restriction was changed, she could go into hiding, exert pressure on witnesses and victims, or otherwise hamper the investigation.

After her lawyers requested the replacement of the judge, Savchenko said she supported the motion but used an earthy quip to suggest it would make little difference whether a new judge is assigned to the case.

Karpov refused to transfer the case to another judge.

Savchenko was transferred to the hospital ward at Moscow's notorious Matrosskaya Tishina detention center on January 29 because of what medical personnel described as "abrupt weight loss."

Maria Savchenko, mother of Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko, arrives at the Moscow hearing on February 10.
Maria Savchenko, mother of Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko, arrives at the Moscow hearing on February 10.

Fourteen European Union foreign ministers on February 9 launched a plea for Russia to free Savchenko.

The group gathered for a photo on the margins of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, holding signs featuring a photo of Savchenko, the Ukrainian flag, the social media slogan #FreeSavchenko and the message: "We call the Russian authorities to free illegally abducted Ukrainian pilot."

The initiative, organized by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, also featured ministers from Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Sweden, along with France's ambassador to the European Union.

On February 4, U.S. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said that Savchenko's life "hangs in the balance."

Psaki called Savchenko "a hostage to Russian authorities" and said Washington demanded her immediate release in accordance with the commitments Russia made under an agreement signed in Minsk in September.

Savchenko was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in October while in Russian detention.

With additional reporting by Interfax, Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP