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Ukrainian Court Sentences Two Russians On Terrorism Charges


Yevgeny Yerofeyev (left) and Aleksandr Aleksandrov talk to each other in a glass cage in a Kyiv courtroom where they were sentenced on terrorism charges on Aporil 18.
Yevgeny Yerofeyev (left) and Aleksandr Aleksandrov talk to each other in a glass cage in a Kyiv courtroom where they were sentenced on terrorism charges on Aporil 18.

A Ukrainian court has sentenced two Russian citizens to 14 years in prison each on charges of fighting alongside Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Shortly after the sentencing on April 18 of Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, the Kremlin said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed by phone the "fate" of the two Russians as well as Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko, who Russia has imprisoned on murder charges.

While the Kremlin did not explicitly say so, many observers expect the Kyiv court's verdict against the Russians to open the door for a prisoner exchange.

Poroshenko has previously proposed swapping Savchenko -- who is a national hero and has denied the charges against her -- for the Russians.

The Kremlin said the two leaders agreed that Moscow would "soon" allow Ukraine's consul-general in Rostov-on-Don to visit Savchenko in prison.

Poroshenko's office afterward said the Ukrainian leader urged Moscow to "immediately" free Savchenko. Citing her deteriorating health, he also urged Putin to allow Ukrainian and German doctors to examine her.

Ukraine's Holosiiv district court found the two Russian men guilty of conducting terrorist acts and aggressive military activities and sentenced them the same day.

The two, who pleaded not guilty, retracted video confessions made earlier in which they admitted they were active-duty Russian military personnel when they were captured in Ukraine's Luhansk region in May 2015. Both said the statements were made under duress.

Russia has said neither Yerofeyev nor Aleksandrov were employed by the military when they were captured by a volunteer Ukrainian militia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied that it has provided weapons, training, and personnel to support separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine. Independent observers, journalists, and official monitors, however, have gathered a substantial body of evidence to the contrary.

The verdict by the Ukrainian court completes what the Kremlin has described as prerequisites before a prisoner exchange can take place, including official court verdicts against both the Russian prisoners and Savchenko.

A court in Russia's Rostov region last month found Savchenko complicit in the deaths of two Russian journalists covering fighting in eastern Ukraine in June 2014, and sentenced her to more than 20 years in prison.

Poroshenko has said several times that he would be willing to make a prisoner exchange with Russia to secure Savchenko's release, and the Kremlin has never rejected the possibility.

At least 11 other Ukrainians, including filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, have been prosecuted in Russian courts related to Russia's forcible annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Moscow has signaled that it might also consider releasing them as part of a possible prisoner swap.

An uneasy truce in the two-year-old conflict has held since a ceasefire was negotiated in February 2015, although international observers have recorded an uptick in fighting in recent months.

More than 9,100 people have been killed in the fighting, and some 21,000 wounded.

With reporting by Interfax, AP, Reuters.
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