Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko finally got to present her “last word,” or closing statement, in the Donetsk (Russia) courtroom today, and it was a doozy. At the end of today’s brief session, the court set March 21st as the day it will hand down its final verdict. In Russian judicial procedure, the presiding judge announces the verdict together with a commonly lengthy recitation of all the facts, evidence, and grounds it has used to determine its conclusion. Courts customarily also announce the sentence at the same time as the verdict.
Today was a highly anticipated day for followers of the nightmare ordeal of Nadiya Savchenko. Her lawyers had suggested that she may not even make an appearance today because of her deteriorating health since initiating a hunger strike. To everyone’s amazement, when the court convened at 10 am, a convoy of cars rolled up and Savchenko was brought into court smiling and looking in fairly good shape. She walked on her own, appeared in good spirits and wished everyone a good day.
She gave her final statement in a spirited fashion, which we’ve come to expect from this extraordinarily brave, articulate and dignified woman. Her statement repeated much of what had been circulated on March 3, the day her speech had been cut off unexpectedly by the judge. At the end of today’s speech, the sassy pilot did something even more bold than anyone anticipated. She hopped onto the bench on which she usually sits inside her humiliating glass cage and held up her elbow so all could see her raised middle finger, aimed directly at the judge and prosecutor. For this innovative expression of her opinion of the judge, the court and its unfair proceedings, Savchenko was not only rebuked for her “offensive behavior,” but the judge ordered that no visitors, including medical personnel, would be allowed to see her before the verdict.
For several days now Savchenko has been on a dry hunger strike which she shows no signs of ending. Her lawyers have said that she is feeling worse every day. At a news conference after the proceedings today, Mark Feygin said Savchenko has a fever and an elevated heart rate. Everyone is obviously worried and fearful for the worst, that she will in fact die in Russian custody. Savchenko implied this herself in court today, that if the judge wants to demonstrate his strength, he can do so, but he must also remember that it’s her life that’s he’s toying with. She pointed out that the court had a week to hand down his verdict, yet took 12 days instead, implying he is dragging out her case without any justification. Savchenko said quite simply that at the rate the trial is going, she may not live long enough to hear the final verdict.
Savchenko went on a no food or water hungry strike in response to last week’s sudden action by the judge to cut off her final statement during the court session on March 3. She stated she was determined to return to her homeland, Ukraine, dead or alive, and won’t be broken by the Russian government. Her statement has since been published by her lawyers, but apparently, it was too political to be presented in court. In any case, the judge decided to stop the proceedings and reconvene today, March 9th.
Savchenko has been in Russian custody now for 630 days, ever since her abduction from war-torn East Ukraine while a volunteer soldier in the early days of the Russia-Ukraine war. She has been in and out of several Russian prisons, including the infamous KGB Serbsky Psychiatric Hospital. After many delays and changes in venue, Savchenko’s trial finally began 7 months ago in September of 2015 in the remote city of Donetsk, Russia. She is being tried for the murder of two Russian journalists who were killed when artillery fire struck them at a checkpoint in East Ukraine. Among other evidence of her innocence, Savchenko showed records that she had already been in Russian custody when the checkpoint attack occurred. For a comprehensive review of the Savchenko case details, read Pierre Vaux’s “Nadiya Savchenko: Victim of a Modern Day Show Trial” on the Interpreter website here.
Savchenko’s case has been watched worldwide, and it has been the source of condemnation of the Kremlin from human rights groups and government bodies across Europe, Russia and the United States. The UN representatives have called Savchenko a political prisoner and a hostage in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Recently Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning Savchenko’s imprisonment and trial and called for her release as other POWs under the Minsk Ceasefire Accords of February 2015. Russia’s response was to condemn Kerry for putting pressure on the Russian court, denying Savchenko falls under Minsk.
March 9 was announced as an global day of action to free Nadiya Savchenko. Many cities around the world held demonstrations in support of Savchenko in recent days, including Kyiv, Warsaw, London, Brussels, Toronto, New York. In Moscow and St. Petersburg several dozen protesters were arrested.
In addition, 57 members of the European Parliament took the unprecedented action of drawing up a list of people responsible for the Savchenko ordeal. As detailed in the documents below, published on twitter by European Parliament member from Poland Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, they have appealed for sanctions against 29 individuals involved in Savchenko’s abduction, her transfer to Russian territory, the filing of charges against her and the carrying out of the current trial. Vladimir Putin is among those included in these personal sanctions.