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A year of legal farce: 10 key moments of Savchenko’s case in 2015

Nadiya Savchenko in court on 18 January 2015. Photo: @HromadskeRadio
A year of legal farce: 10 key moments of Savchenko’s case in 2015
Nadiya Savchenko is a Ukrainian pilot, an elected Ukrainian MP, and PACE delegate. She served as a peacekeeper in Iraq, the only woman in the brigade. After masked Russian troops occupied Crimea and Russian-sponsored militants began an armed uprising in Ukraine’s East, Nadiya volunteered to defend her country as part of the Aidar battalion.

At approximately 10:30 AM on 17 June 2014, Nadiya was kidnapped by pro-Russia militants cooperating with Russian security forces near the Ukrainian city of Luhansk and forcibly taken across the border to Russia.

In December she went on her second hunger strike. The first one lasted for 83 days and made her known to the world as a brave woman fighting against injustice by all available means. Here is the timeline of the most important moments of Savchenko case of 2015, as summarized by one of her lawyers Ilia Novikov.

1. Hunger strike in Matrosskaya Tishina prison

For the first time, Nadiya started her hunger strike in December 2014. By the end of January her health was in such poor condition that she was transferred to the hospital department of “Matrosskaya Tishina,” where she stayed for next half year under the 24-hour supervision of doctors. Nadiya stopped her hunger strike in March after the intervention of European diplomats and their promises to do everything possible to secure her release.

Savchenko hunger strike
Nadiya Savchenko on hunger strike. Photo by Sputnik

2. Savchenko becomes a PACE delegate

On 26 February 2015 Nadiya Savchenko officially became a member of PACE. Due to the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe (1949), she can’t be hold in custody without Assembly’s consent.

The Russian MFA issued a document stating that the immunity of the delegate Savchenko was not valid since it was received after the alleged crime.

By a resolution 2034 (2015) Russia was offered to set Savchenko free in 24 hours, but Russia refused. So the delegation was deprived the right to vote in PACE (though it wasn’t exempt of a duty to pay fees to the Council of Europe.

3. After new evidence, prosecution drops charges of killing of journalists 

After investigation was sped up in February, the proceedings took a different turn. In May 2015 two investigatory experiments proved that a 2,6 km distance was too far to distinguish a journalist and a militant even with the help of binoculars. Yet it was possible to distinguish civil clothes from military uniform, so the investigation decided that Savchenko aimed at killing all civil citizens in the area.

Apart for the killed journalists, there were seven other people: VGTRK cameraman Denisov and six locals. They all were in 150 m from the place where the journalists died and none of them got hurt. Yet, there were up to 10 militants who died there and the investigators allowed the autopsy protocols to be included to the proceeding.

Savchenko’s accusations were silently changed and the point about killing in connection with performance of professional duties was removed.

4.Court hearings directed to Russian Donetsk

On 15 January 2015 Savchenko was brought new charges in the unlawful crossing of Russian border which implies up to two years of prison. This allowed the defense to raise the question of Savchenko being kidnapped.

In March, the Voronezh entrepreneur Miroshnikov testified before the investigation. He stated that he took Savchenko in Donetsk, Rostov Oblast close to the border crossing point Izvarino. Miroshnikov allegedly brought Savchenko to Boguchar and even gave her 15.000 Rubles.

This was the ground to direct the proceeding to Donetsk city court. Though, it didn’t help to hide the process: despite the 100 km distance from Moscow, European and American diplomats and a pool of journalists are present at each hearing.

5. Nadiya’s book, “It’s a strong name, Hope,” published

During the hunger strike, Nadiya wrote a book about her life in the prison and prior to it, about military service, war in Iraq. We smuggled her manuscripts, in August it was published. The book turned out very frank and lively. It is now being translated to Russian, English and German. In December Russian customs confiscated 23 copies from Nadiya’s sister, Vira Savchenko. They were sent to the expertise because of potential “extremism content.” Even if they find it there, it will only serve as a good advertisement for new editions.

You can read a translation to English of a few excerpts here:

Savchenko's book "Strong Name Nadiya", photo:
Savchenko’s book “The strong name Nadiya”, photo:

6. “Luhansk People’s Republic” leader Plotnitsky testifies

One of the last witnesses in the court from side of the prosecution was the main separatist of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LNR”) Igor Plotnitsky. The intrigue was whether he’d appear in court at all, or his testimony would only be read out loud.

He came to the court on 18 November and demanded the interrogation to happen behind the closed doors due to necessity of “providing his personal security,” which was accepted by the court. During the interrogation he confessed that there was no danger to his life, just that he didn’t want his speech to be used politically.

Plotnitsky stated, that Savchenko was released from captivity on 23 June 2014 by his order and with the knowledge of then head of “LNR,” Bolotov. Plotnitsky stated that Savchenko confessed in correcting artillery fire back then. Why after such a confession she was allegedly set free, Plotnitsky didn’t explain.

Image: Ilya Novikov

7. Fake witness lieutenant colonel Pochechuiev testifies against Nadiya

The majority of the witnesses testified through video conference. Federal Security Service (FSB) lieutenant colonel Pochechuiev was testifying in a wig, sunglasses, and in makeup. According to him, it was for personal security.

When the court announced a break till morning, the Ukrainian consul and Nadiya’s lawyer Ilia Novikov went to Voronezh to meet this witness in person. As stated in the documents, he was 41 years old, but looked as if he was over 50. Mr.Novikov photographed his signature, and a handwriting expert confirmed that it wasn’t the person who signed materials of the proceedings.

False witnesses is a common practice for Russian courts, but fake witnesses are still rather exotic.

Pochechuiev witnessing in a wig, sunglasses and makeup. Photo:
Pochechuiev witnessing in a wig, sunglasses and makeup. Photo:

8. An investigator unlawfully present during testimonies

In a month, Ilia Novikov managed to get into the Basmanny court where the victim, VGTRK cameraman Denisov was testifying through a video conference. “Whom I found in the court, was Savchenko’s proceedings’ investigator Dmitry Manshin. Investigators may not stay in court during testimonies and no one knew he was present. Was he dictating the answers to this one witness or to all of them? Did his colleagues also come to other testimonies? That we don’t know,” Ilia recalled this episode.

9. The court won’t accept materials from Ukraine

The Investigative Committee of Russia didn’t send any official requests to Ukraine regarding the territory on which the alleged crime was committed. They do not have even one picture of the post on which, allegedly, Savchenko was while firing. Those pictures are important because they prove that the stairs to the post start at the height of 7 m – a distance certainly too high to traverse by simply jumping.

Nadiya’s defense brought the photos, but the Committee denied using them, naming a variety of reasons not to accept documents from Ukraine. It was made clear that no evidence from Ukraine will be accepted. Russian law does not provide such regulations, but in this case it was decided so.

10. Astronomer Vozyakova

A representative of Institute of Astronomy of Moscow State University Olga Vozyakova (21 years of work experience, more than 50 publications) took part in the hearings despite prosecutors’ and court’s efforts to prevent her from doing that.

Vozyakova proved that due to the angles of the shades on the video of Savchenko’s kidnapping, it happened around 10:40 AM with a 20 minute error. The shelling happened at 11:40, which means Savchenko has an alibi.

The idea of exchanging the POWs between Ukraine and Russia “all for all” started appearing more frequently in Russian public sphere. On 17 December 2015 ombudsman Ella Pamfilova expressed it publically, which may suggest she was representing the official state line. No one believes that Putting will keep his word, but such a message proves that he understands he can’t postpone any more. Nadia has started her second hunger strike and she won’t give up.

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