Savchenko at Warsaw Book Fair in 2017
|People's Deputy of Ukraine|
27 November 2014
|Born||Nadiya Viktorivna Savchenko
11 May 1981
Kiev, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
|Awards|| Hero of Ukraine
Order For Courage
|Service/branch||Ukrainian Armed Forces|
|Years of service||1997–2014|
|Unit||3rd Army Aviation Regiment, Brody, Lviv oblast
Nadiya Viktorivna Savchenko (Ukrainian: Надія Вікторівна Савченко; born 11 May 1981) is a Ukrainian politician and former Army aviation pilot in the Ukrainian Ground Forces. She is a member of the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament).
During the 2014 War in Donbass, Savchenko, a first lieutenant in the Ukrainian Ground Forces, served as instructor with a volunteer infantry unit, Aidar Battalion. In June, 2014 she was captured by pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and handed over to Russia, where she was accused of having directed artillery fire that killed two Russian state-television journalists at the positions of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.
She was subsequently charged and convicted of murder and illegally crossing Russian state border despite being abducted from Ukrainian territory one hour before the deaths of the journalists. One of her lawyers, Mark Feygin, said she was a prisoner-of-war and called on the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations to demand her immediate release and that of the other Ukrainian POWs lest Russia be held in violation of the Geneva Conventions. European Union ministers and their representative regarded her detention as illegal and that her trial did not respect basic human rights, including the right to fair proceedings.
In November 2014, while still imprisoned, Savchenko was elected to the Verkhovna Rada in the 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary election, and she formally resigned from her military post. On 25 May 2016, Savchencko was exchanged in a prisoner swap for Russian GRU officers Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov captured by Ukraine.
Life and military career
Nadiya Savchenko and her younger sister Vira were born in Kiev; in the Troieshchyna neighbourhood. Their father was an agricultural engineer, their mother a designer and cargo manager. Savchenko's father was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union while her mother was an anti-communist. Her mother and sister Vira said in an interview that she and her sister were brought up in a Ukrainian-speaking household and attending Ukrainian-language schools.
At 16, Savchenko was already determined to become a pilot. She joined the Ukrainian Army, working as a radio operator with the country's railway forces before training as a paratrooper. She was then the only Ukrainian female soldier in the (2004–2008) Ukrainian peacekeeping troops in Iraq. Upon returning, she successfully petitioned the Defense Ministry for the right to attend the prestigious Air Force University in Kharkiv, which until then had been open only to men; she graduated in 2009.
In 2010, she was posted to the 3rd Army Aviation Regiment in Brody, Lviv Oblast. In 2011, the Ukraine Defense Forces published a 20-minute documentary about Savchenko and her military career. She also featured in a United Nations Development Program as part of a drive to promote equality in the Ukrainian military. Savchenko found her time in Brody boring and often got drunk. She was unhappy at being trained to fly the Mi-24 attack helicopter, instead of fast jets. Her former commanding officer at Brody, Edward Zahurskiy, described her as a problem officer, who was unstable, insubordinate, and lacked discipline.
In December 2013 Savchenko's 3rd Army Aviation Regiment was ordered to Kiev by President Viktor Yanukovych. Savchenko then (without permission from her commanding officer) joined the Euromaidan demonstrations. Savchenko kept a low profile during the protests; there is video of trying to persuade demonstrators not to throw petrol bombs at riot police. After the president had fled Ukraine in late February 2014, Savchenko and her unit returned to Brody.
Capture by Donbass People's Militia
During the War in Donbass, Savchenko fought as a volunteer in the east of Ukraine in the Aidar Battalion. On June 17, 2014, at 10:46 am she was captured near the village of Metalist, Slovianoserbsk Raion, by members of the Zarya Battalion, an armed pro-Russian militant group that declared allegiance to the self-declared People's Republic of Luhansk. On June 19 a video of her interrogation at an undisclosed location appeared on the internet; she was shown handcuffed to a metal pipe. On June 20, the chief of counterintelligence Vladimir Gromov said that Savchenko was being well treated. On June 22, there were media reports that Savchenko had been transferred to Donetsk.
Detention and trial in the Russian Federation
On July 8, 2014, there were media reports that Nadiya Savchenko was being kept in a detention center in city of Voronezh, the Russian Federation. On July 9, Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee (a federal agency subordinate to the Russian President) confirmed that Savchenko was indeed held in Voronezh, where she is facing charges of complicity in the June 17 killing of two Russian journalists, Igor Vladimirovich Kornelyuk (a correspondent for All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company), and sound producer Anton Voloshin, who died during a mortar attack on a rebel checkpoint outside Luhansk. Ukrainian officials said the reporters did not comply with safety requirements and were not accredited. According to Savchenko's defence team, she is alibied by the billing data for Savchenko's and Kornelyuk's mobile phones, provided by Ukrainian Security Service, as she had already been captured by the Russian-backed separatists one hour before the mortar attack that killed Russian journalists.
Since late 2015 Russia's Investigative Committee insisted she crossed the border voluntarily, without documents and in the guise of a refugee. This contradicted previously published evidence and media reports: long before the alleged crossing, Russia's pro-Kremlin TV channel NTV reported that Savchenko had been captured by "rebels" and then handed over to the Russian authorities. Ukrainian officials said she had been illegally taken to Russia by Russian intelligence services in collaboration with pro-Russian rebels. In 2016 journalist Semen Zakruzhnyi followed the Investigative Committee's alleged route pointing out to numerous inconsistencies and concluding that neither Savchenko nor Russian investigators ever visited the places mentioned in the indictment.
Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strong protest against the illegal transfer of Savchenko to Russia, calling the kidnapping of the Ukrainian citizen an act of state terrorism. On July 8, President Petro Poroshenko instructed the General Prosecutor of Ukraine to take all measures to bring about Savchenko's release. In response, Vladimir Markin at Russia's Investigative Committee claimed that Savchenko was a terrorist and that the chances of her being released were on a par with those of Petro Poroshenko replacing Barack Obama as President of the United States.
During her long trial in Russia, Savchenko has been held in a cage—which is standard practice in Russia for defendants held without bail, despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling that defendants should never be held in a cage in the courtroom. On July 10, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a website statement that her detention and trial is "A violation of all international agreements, all norms of law and is unacceptable." President Poroshenko emphasized that "Nadiya Savchenko is a symbol of the struggle for Ukraine. While in captivity she has demonstrated the true, strong, martial Ukrainian spirit of a serviceman who doesn't betray the Motherland." The President also said he had ordered a new lawyer for Savchenko.
As of 11 July 2015, Savchenko's Russian defense lawyer is Mark Feygin, who is known for his defense of Pussy Riot. On August 27, 2014 during a hearing at the Sovetsky district court of Voronezh, Savchenko appeared wearing a T-shirt with the Ukrainian state symbol (Tryzub) and spoke exclusively in the Ukrainian language. She also stated that she had been detained in Russia since June 24, instead of June 30 as the Russian investigation reports. Upon conclusion of the hearing the court extended Savchenko's detention for a further two months and ordered that she be sent for a month to the Serbsky Institute for a forensic psychological evaluation, which Savchenko opposed.
On 22 December 2014 Moscow City Court upheld the decision to extend the arrest of Savchenko until the end of the investigation; the investigation was scheduled to be concluded by 13 February 2015. Savchenko subsequently began a hunger strike. The European Union and the United States have condemned Savchenko's detention and have called for her release. Her lawyer, Mark Feygin, says she is a prisoner-of-war.
Savchenko officially became a Ukrainian delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, on 26 January 2015; thus on a legal level, she obtained parliamentary immunity in all PACE signatory states, including Russia, from that date. Despite this she was not released. Aleksey Pushkov of the Russian Duma stated that her appointment to PACE was an attack against Russia and that gaining diplomatic immunity does not absolve one from previous crimes. However, the Russian delegation to PACE allegedly struck a different tone, stating that it "fully supports the release of Nadia Savchenko." PACE has declined to strip Savchenko of her parliamentary immunity, and instead has stated that Savchenko must be immediately released, finding her 2014 abduction and subsequent imprisonment to be "a violation of international law amounting to her de facto kidnapping".
On July 24, 2015 a spokesman for the Investigative Committee of Russia announced, contrary to the information of Savchenko's capture published earlier by Donetsk People's Republic, that she voluntarily crossed the Russian border with intention of committing acts of sabotage and freely moved on the territory of Voronezh Oblast until 30 June when she was arrested.
In February 2016 the US State department's spokesperson Jen Psaki voiced deep concern over the continued ill-treatment and deteriorating health of Savchenko, and called on Russia to honor its commitments under the September 2014 Minsk agreements and the February 15 implementation plan by immediately releasing Savchenko and other Ukrainian hostages. Other urges to release her followed. On 7 March 2016 US Secretary of State John Kerry protested about Savchenko's continued detention, specifically mentioning concerns about her interrogations, solitary confinement, and forced "psychiatric evaluation".
In March 2016, Savchenko wrote: "It is an absurd situation when those who abduct people and subject them to torture then act as if they have a right to judge them! How can one talk about a fair trial? In Russia, there are no trials or investigations—only a farce played out by Kremlin puppets. [...] those in the world with democratic values ought to learn their history lessons before it's too late and remember that there was a time when Europe was tolerant toward Hitler, and America wasn’t decisive enough, and this led to World War II."
On the 10 March 2016, while on a hunger strike, Nadiya Savchenko made a last statement to the court, which included the statement: "I admit no guilt and I recognize neither the court nor the verdict. If I am found guilty, I will not appeal. I want the entire democratic world to understand that Russia is a Third World country with a totalitarian regime and a petty tyrant for a dictator and it spits on international law and human rights."
According to her lawyer Mark Feygin, "her case will certainly be decided in Kremlin by Putin and his associates". On 21 March 2016, the court of Donetsk, Russia found Savchenko guilty of illegally crossing the Russian border and the murder of two Russian journalists.
Savchenko was freed in a prisoner swap on 25 May 2016 for two Russian servicemen. She was released from custody in Rostov-na-Donu and immediately on a presidential flight brought to Boryspil. Technically, she was granted a pardon by president Vladimir Putin. Immediately in the Boryspil International Airport she was awarded the Golden Star and received an honorary title of Hero of Ukraine.
Political career (since 2014)
In the October 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary election, Savchenko was placed first on the party list of Batkivshchyna. (In a June 2016 interview with Radio Free Europe she stated that the party wasn't her first choice, but it "isn't the worst".) In this same election her sister Vira Savchenko was also a candidate for Batkivshchyna in an electoral constituency in Yahotyn. Nadiya Savchenko was elected as a deputy to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament of Ukraine, as a result of the election. Because of this Savchenko resigned from the Ukrainian army on 7 November 2014. The Russian government has recognized the elections of Ukraine, meaning that the Russian Federation was holding a member of parliament from another nation under arrest. Vira Savchenko finished third in her constituency with 7.02% of the votes (winner Serhiy Mishchenko won 40.41%) and was thus not elected.
On 25 December 2014, Savchenko was included in Ukraine's quota for representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE); as noted above, legally this granted her parliamentary immunity in all PACE signatory nations, including Russia.
On 6 November 2015 Savchenko's first draft law was introduced to parliament, while she was imprisoned in Russia.
In 2016 Savchenko left Batkivshchyna, but remained a member of its parliamentary faction. This was announced on 12 December 2016 right after Savchenko had admitted she recently in Minsk held a secret meeting with separatist leaders Aleksandr Zakharchenko (of the Donetsk People's Republic) and Igor Plotnitsky (of the Luhansk People's Republic). On 15 December 2016 Batkivshchyna expelled Savchenko from its parliamentary faction in response to her Minsk meeting with Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky. The party saw this meeting as "negotiations with terrorists" and "adamantly opposed" it.[nb 1] Following this controversy, on 22 December (2016), the Ukrainian parliament stripped Savchenko of her PACE membership. On 27 December 2016 Savchenko established the Civic Platform RUNA (an acronym for Ukrainian People's Revolution). According to Savchenko RUNA will not be a "political project" but rather a "mechanism" and a "natural association of people" who do not follow "populist slogans."
After news of her arrest was reported on 19 June, Savchenko became the subject of an impassioned Ukrainian social media campaign portraying her as a national hero. This social media campaign used the hashtag #SaveOurGirl (that mid-July 2014 had generated more than 15,000 tweets); apparently inspired by the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls used in the May 2014 Chibok schoolgirl kidnapping social media worldwide campaign.
In Russia, Savchenko is portrayed extremely negatively in the media; according to BBC News "Crude, and at times sexist, innuendo is used to demonise Ms Savchenko". Russian Daily Komsomolskaya Pravda alleges that Savchenko is known as a "killing machine in a skirt", and Tvoy Den called her "Satan's daughter". Russian social media, however, tends to be more nuanced towards her with several anti-Kremlin users mocking perceived oddities in the Russian authorities' version of events, in particular their claim that she entered the country as a refugee. In March 2016 Russian composer Vladimir Nazarov wrote in an open letter to Putin "not even in my worst nightmares could I have imagined that I would have to ask you not to kill a woman". Also in March 2016 Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny stated about Savchenko's trial "However you look at it, this doesn't benefit Russia". Navalny claimed that whoever planned to make Savchenko "a trophy prisoner" had miscalculated. He described the trial as such an "obvious stitch-up" you could "see the threads".
Other Ukrainians detained by Russia include:
- On 16 December 2016 Batkivshchyna declared it would not use the Imperative mandate (depriving her parliamentary seat) against Savchenko. Faction leader Yulia Tymoshenko stated the party did not regret putting Savchenko in its electoral list for the 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary election, because "then we needed to rescue Ukraine's patriot from prison of the occupying country."
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Savchenko Quits Ukrainian Party, But Plans To Continue Politics, Radio Free Europe (13 December 2016)
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- "В России по-хамски объяснили, когда освободят летчицу Надежду Савченкo" [In Russia]. TCH.ua (in Russian). July 11, 2014.
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- "Захисник "Pussy Riot" став адвокатом льотчиці Наді" [Defender of "Pussy Riot takes on Nadiya Savchenko case]. Ukrayinska Pravda (in Ukrainian). 11 July 2014.
- "Savchenko in court: We already do not have Yanukovych, you soon won't have Putin". Ukrayinska Pravda. August 27, 2014.
- "For Savchenko the arrest was extended and she was placed in the Institute of court psychiatry". Ukrayinska Pravda. August 27, 2014.
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- "Адвокат Савченко озвучил беспрецедентный ультиматум Госдепа США к властям РФ" [Savchenko's lawyer announces an unprecedented ultimatum from the US State Department to the authorities of the Russian Federation]. Політолог (politolog) (in Russian). 6 March 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
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