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Kyiv Court Orders Two-Month Pretrial Detention For Savchenko


A defiant Nadia Savchenko attends a court hearing in Kyiv on March 23.
A defiant Nadia Savchenko attends a court hearing in Kyiv on March 23.

KYIV -- A Ukrainian court has authorized the detention in pretrial custody of lawmaker Nadia Savchenko, a celebrated former military pilot accused of plotting a terrorist attack on parliament with grenades and automatic weapons.

The Shevchenko District Court on March 23 ordered that Savchenko be held for two months pending an official investigation into the case.

Savchenko told the court she was innocent, that the charges against her were politically motivated, and that her detainment on March 22 at Ukraine's parliament was "illegal."

She also announced that she was starting a hunger strike.

The court’s ruling to keep Savchenko in custody until May 23 came a day after fellow lawmakers voted to strip her of her immunity from prosecution and authorized her arrest.

Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko has accused Savchenko and alleged accomplice Volodymyr Ruban of plotting to overthrow the government and carry out a "large-scale terrorist attack" in central Kyiv as well as kill senior officials.

Ruban was detained earlier in March while crossing into government-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, allegedly with large amounts of weapons and ammunition hidden in a shipment of furniture.

Savchenko said at the hearing on March 23 that "the weapons were being transported from the enemy" -- a reference to Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of two eastern provinces -- in order "to [forensically] study them."

Prosecutor Oleksandr Bannyk, who called for Savchenko to be remanded in custody for the two-month pretrial detention period, said she could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.

The ruling marks a dramatic new turn for the former military aviator.

For a time, Savchenko was seen in Ukraine as a hero in a war that has killed more than 10,300 people since Russia fomented unrest and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine -- moves that followed pro-European protests which drove Ukraine's Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014.

Savchenko says she was abducted in the combat zone later that year and taken to Russia. She spent two years in prison there -- stretches of which she spent on hunger strikes -- before being released and returned to Ukraine as part of a prisoner swap in May 2016.

Elected to parliament on an opposition party ticket while still held in Russia, Savchenko became a vehement critic of President Petro Poroshenko's government after her return.

She swiftly drew criticism from several political camps.

She has faced criticism for holding talks with the Russia-backed separatists without consent from the government in Kyiv.

She's also been criticized for comments which, Ukrainian nationalists claim, indicate she advocates accepting Moscow's seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

With reporting by Merhat Sharipzhan
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