Freed Ukraine Pilot Arrives Home after nearly 2 Years in Russia Prison

Freed Ukraine Pilot Arrives Home after nearly 2 Years in Russia Prison
Wed May 25, 2016 20:19:05

After serving almost two years in a Russian jail, Ukrainian pilot, Nadiya Savchenko, has arrived home through a prisoner swap deal that is likely to ease diplomatic tensions between Moscow and Kiev.

The 35-year-old army helicopter pilot arrived on Wednesday at Boryspil International Airport outside the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where she made a passionate speech.

She thanked her supporters, and promised to fight for the release of other Ukrainians in Russia’s custody, saying, "I'm ready to once again give my life for Ukraine on the battlefield.”

The pilot was captured in June 2014 and put on trial in southern Russia, charged with complicity in the deaths of two Russian journalists who were killed by artillery while covering the conflict in eastern Ukraine. She denies the accusation.

Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko sits inside a defendant's cage at a court in the southern Russian town of Donetsk, on March 22, 2016

Back in March, a Russian court sentenced the Ukrainian servicewoman to 22 years behind bars.


Prisoner Exchange Deal

Savchenko was exchanged for two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, held by Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the pair were back in Russia, having landed at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on a special flight from Kiev.

Kiev accused the two of being Russian Special Forces officers fighting in eastern Ukraine, but Moscow has never acknowledged the claim.


Reactions to Savchenko’s Release

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini hailed Savchenko’s release, saying she was celebrating with Ukraine.

"Nadiya Savchenko is free and back in Ukraine. Long awaited good news, that the EU celebrates together with her country," Mogherini said on Twitter.

The Kremlin spokesman said that Savchenko was granted a pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin said the widows of the two Russian journalists, who were killed in eastern Ukraine, had contacted him "with a request to pardon” the Ukrainian pilot.

He further expressed hope that "such decisions dictated primarily by humanitarian considerations will lead to a lessening of confrontation in the well-known conflict zone and will help avoid such terrible and unnecessary losses."


Poroshenko’s Statement on the Pilot’s Return

In another development on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a statement with Savchenko at the Presidential Office in Kiev.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko makes a statement with pilot Nadiya Savchenko in Kiev, Ukraine, May 25, 2016

Poroshenko vowed to secure the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia. He also pledged to wrest control over the country's troubled eastern regions and the Black Sea Crimean peninsula which rejoined Russia following a referendum in March 2014.


Ukraine Conflict

A political crisis erupted in Ukraine in November 2013 when the country’s then President Viktor Yanukovych refrained from signing an EU Association Agreement in favor of closer ties with Moscow.

The move sparked demonstrations that led to Yanukovych’s ouster and the rejoining of Crimea to the Russian Federation.

The situation also degenerated into a conflict after Kiev dispatched troops to the eastern provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk in April 2014 in an attempt to suppress pro-Moscow protests there.

The crisis has left over 9,300 people dead and over 21,000 others injured, according to the United Nations, Press TV reported.

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