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Verdict Due In Savchenko Case

Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko delivers her final statement to the court in the southern Russian town of Donetsk on March 9.
Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko delivers her final statement to the court in the southern Russian town of Donetsk on March 9.

A Russian judge has begun delivering the verdict in the case against the Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko.

The reading of the verdict at the Donetsk city court in Russia's southern region of Rostov began on March 21 and was expected to take two days.

Savchenko is accused of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, charges she denies.

Prosecutors want Savchenko sent to prison for 23 years.

The case has sparked outrage in Ukraine and elsewhere, with critics accusing the Kremlin of orchestrating a show trial.

Savchenko has remained defiant since court proceedings began in September 2015 in the small Russian town of Donetsk near the border with Ukraine.

She has gone on hunger strike to protest her detention.

On March 9, the judge wrapped up the trial and announced the reading of the verdict would begin on March 21 and take two days.

Savchenko says she was seized in eastern Ukraine in June 2014, while fighting with a volunteer battalion against Russia-backed separatists, and taken to Russia illegally.

She was accused of acting as a spotter who called in coordinates for a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists.

The Ukrainian government says Savchenko was abducted by the Russians and should be treated as a prisoner of war.

The European Union and the United States have led international calls for her release.

"During the past 20 months, she has become a symbol of Ukrainian national pride and strength," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement on March 8.

A spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry said on March 9 that Russia had not held discussions on handing over Savchenko to Ukraine and would not do so until the court announces its verdict.

Savchenko has been held in custody in Russia since July 2014. Her trial began on September 22, 2015.

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 Affairs Committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said on March 9 that the letter amounts to illegal pressure on a Russian court.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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