On January 26, 2015, Congressional Representatives Mr. Levin, Ms. Kaptur, Mr. Fitzpatrick, Mr. Quigley, and Mr. Pascrell submitted House Resolution H. RES. 50 “Calling for the release of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was captured by Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine and has been held illegally in a Russian prison since July 2014.” On January 28, 2015, a similar resolution – S. RES. 52 – was introduced in the Senate by Mr. Cardin and Mr. Wicker; both resolutions were referred to the respective Foreign Relations Committees in both chambers of Congress.
The Ukrainian American Bar Association (UABA) strongly urges that these proposed resolutions be expeditiously reviewed and approved in their respective committees, and placed on the floor for a full vote by the Senate and House. Swift and affirmative passage of these resolutions will show the world that the United States stands behind its pronouncements in support of international rule of law and respect for human rights. Speedy adoption of these resolutions will also signal to Russia that its aggression against Ukraine will not go unnoticed, cannot continue, and will be rebuked accordingly by the international community.
Nadiya Savchenko, a former military pilot in the Ukrainian Air Force, serves as a current member of the Parliament of Ukraine, and a Delegate from Ukraine at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
In the middle of June 2014, she was captured by Russians in the Luhansk region of Ukraine – the area where Russian troops and Russia-supported terrorists and mercenaries are fighting against the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian civilian volunteers. Russians illegally and forcibly transported Savchenko across the border into Russia, with a bag over her head, while handcuffed. In Russia she was falsely accused of, and charged with, the alleged killings of two Russian members of the press. These members of the Russian press appear to have died in shellfire, and not at the hands of Ms. Savchenko as Russian propaganda machine would want the world to believe. According to Ms. Savchenko and her attorneys, not only was Ms. Savchenko nowhere near the area where the two members of the Russian press died, but they actually died AFTER the Russians had captured Savchenko and brought her over to Russia from Ukraine.
Ms. Savchenko is being kept in a Russian prison, undoubtedly on direct orders from Putin, without proof of having committed any of the alleged crimes with which she has been charged, without trial and without due process of any kind. According to her attorneys, Messrs. Mark Feygin, and Nikolai Polozov, Ms. Savchenko has an irrefutable alibi that proves her innocence and the falsity of the Russian charges against her.
She has been held in solitary confinement in prison, with no access to mail. Her two attorneys have had very limited and sporadic access to Ms. Savchenko in prison. Often times her attorneys are not allowed to visit her in prison for several days on end despite repeated requests and attempts.
Putin pays no attention to repeated demands for release by Ms. Savchenko’s attorneys, or by various organizations. Attorney Feygin has recently published his open letter to Putin online, appealing to reason and demanding that Putin release Nadiya Savchenko. The US Department of State has twice called on Russia to release Ms. Savchenko. Memorial Human Rights Center has declared her to be a political prisoner in Russia. PACE has demanded that Savchenko be released. Needless to say, Ms. Savchenko is still in prison. It is clear that Putin is keeping Savchenko imprisoned as his bargaining chip in his negotiations with the West.
In protest against her unlawful and groundless detention while Putin ignores International calls for her release, Ms. Savchenko began a hunger strike in prison on December 13, 2014.
Ms. Savchenko has continued her hunger strike for over 50 days now and is in poor, rapidly deteriorating health. She has lost catastrophic and life-threatening weight. According to her attorneys, she is facing a virtually certain death in prison very soon, if she is not released from detention immediately. She shows no desire to stop her hunger strike protest against her unlawful detention. Putin will not release her from detention until he has obtained some concessions from Europe.
PACE issued emergency request to release Ms. Savchenko, a PACE Delegate from Ukraine who has diplomatic immunity, in order for her to participate in the PACE session that started this week. On January 28, 2015, PACE issued a resolution to free Savchenko, within 24 hours, and to return her to Ukraine, or to hand her over to a third country.
Putin continues to ignore PACE. The Russian delegation at PACE, however, hinted at a possibility of Savchenko’s release in exchange for reactivation of Russia’s voting rights at PACE, which were stripped from it on January 28, 2015 pursuant to PACE’s resolution of the same date. Russia went as far as demanding the removal of all of the Council of Europe’s sanctions against Russia in exchange for Savchenko’s release. These demands by Russia demonstrate that the real reason for detention of Ms. Savchenko is as a bargaining chip by Putin in his negotiations with Europe.
Last week, the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB) initiated yet another trumped-up charge against Savchenko. The new charge alleges Ms. Savchenko illegally crossed the Ukraine-Russia border. Please note, as mentioned above, that Nadiya Savchenko was kidnapped by Russians in Ukraine, and was transported across the border into Russia by force with a bag over her head. This is yet another attempt by Putin to ensure that Ms. Savchenko will continue to be detained, perhaps realizing that the original false charges against her that were probably concocted in a haste and cannot stand up to scrutiny in light of the timing of the alleged offense and Savchenko’s strong alibi defense to the original charges.
Please make no mistake that it is Putin, and he alone, who decides the fate of Nadiya Savchenko, not a Russian court. Thus, the only way Savchenko may be released from the Russian prison is if Putin decides to release her. Putin’s pocket courts in Russia have no say in the matter. Presumption of innocence does not travel very far in Russia. The only way Putin may be forced to relent in his unlawful detention of Savchenko, will be if extreme pressure and condemnation is put on him by the civilized world and the international community as a whole.
The US Congress must forcefully denounce Putin’s unlawful detention of Nadiya Savchenko by passage of H. RES. 50 and S. RES. 52. We urge you and every progressive citizen of the world to take a stand against Putin by demanding the immediate release of Nadiya Savchenko.
The United States of America, its European allies, and the international community must stand up together to Putin’s tyranny. He must be made aware that there is a heavy cost associated with keeping innocent victims as political prisoners for his own gains. We must not remain silent. We must achieve the immediate release of Nadiya Savchenko.