- Nadiya Savchenko is a member of the far-right Aidar Battalion awaiting a trial in Russia
- She stands accused of directing mortar fire to kill two Russian journalists covering the war in Donbass
- There is a campaign in the west to make her into a "Ukrainian Joan of Arc”
This article originally appeared at New Cold War.org
Enclosed are two recent news articles on the case of Nadiya Savchenko, a former pilot in the Ukrainian air force. She stands accused by the Russian court system of directing fire in June, 2014 in eastern Ukraine resulting in the deaths of two Russian journalists. Because of her detention in Russia and the criminal charges she faces, she has become a folk hero in Ukraine and internationally for those who are supporting Ukraine’s war against the people in the east of that country.
The first enclosed article, from Russia Insider, reports on the vote of the European Parliament on April 30 to threaten more sanctions against Russia if it does not release Savchenko from detention. The second article, from Canada’s Globe and Mail national daily, reports on a recent, two-day visit by Vera Savchenko to Ottawa as part of her campaign to win her sister’s release.
In the Globe and Mail article, the writer mentions Nadiya Savchenko’s decision last year to join what is called a “voluntary battalion” fighting for Kyiv in eastern Ukraine. The term “voluntary battalion” is used seveal times in the article. Unmentioned by the Globe is the fact that the battalion in question is the extremist ‘Aidar Battalion’.
‘Aidar’ has been cited for many months now by Amnesty International and countless sources in Ukrainian and international media for widespread commission of war crimes. Recently, New Cold War.org brought to the attention of English language readers the two reports published in November 2014 and March 2015 by the Moscow-based Foundation for the Study of Democracy documenting the widespread practice of torture of prisoners—rebel fighters captured in combat and civilians who are detained–by the Ukrainian armed forces, national police and the “volunteer battalions” operating alongside them.
The two reports on torture as well as media reports and other human rights reports in Russia and Ukraine on the same subject have gone utterly ignored by Western media. To the point where newspapers like the Globe and Mail can blithely refer to “volunteer battalions” such as Aidar and make them sound almost like squads of military cadets.
Ah, details, details. Why should war crimes get in the way of yet another story blaming Russia for anything and everything going wrong in Ukraine, in this case the story of a terribly unfair detention of an extremist accused of aiding the killing of journalists?
Also unmentioned in the Globe and Mail article are the aforementioned circumstances of Savchenko’s arrest—that she stands accused of directing fire that resulted in the deaths of two journalists. Regretfully, this is of a pair with the Globe and Mail‘s failure to report the wave of killings of journalists and opposition politicians that has shaken Ukraine in the past several months and the special laws being approved by Ukraine’s Parliament for the purpose of stamping out social and antiwar protests and banning opposition political parties.
To close, here is a description of the case of Nadiya Savchenko, excerpted from an article published in New Cold War.org on Jan 30, 2015. Further below are the two news articles mentioned earlier.
The case of Nadiya Savchenko, excerpt from ‘Toronto Star newspaper is running with the extreme right in Ukraine‘, in New Cold War.org, Jan. 30, 2015:
Twice in the past month, the Toronto Star has published articles by its journalists promoting the campaigns of the far right in Ukraine. The latest such article appeared on January 14, by Star foreign affairs writer Olivia Ward. It champions the cause of one Nadiya Savchenko, a member of the far-right ‘Aidar’ paramilitary battalion who has been in jail in Russia since June 2014.
Savchenko is a staunch ideologue of the war in eastern Ukraine. She took a “vacation” from her posting in the Ukrainian armed forces in order to join the Aidar Battalion and see action, not long after Kyiv launched its civil war in the east in April 2014. She was already known as one of only two women in Ukraine to volunteer and serve in the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003. She is a trained pilot in the Ukrainian air force.
Savchenko faces criminal charges that she directed mortar fire in the Luhansk region on June 17 causing the deaths of two Russian journalists, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who were reporting on the conditions of war refugees in eastern Ukraine. Two other journalists, a Russian and Italian, were killed by battalion mortars one month earlier, on May 24.
Igor Kornelyuk, killed June 17, 2014
There are several versions of how Savchenko ended up in a Russian jail. One has her arrested by self defense forces and then transferred into the hands of the Russian judicial system. The other (the Russian government version) says she crossed the border into Russia and was detained.
Anton Voloshin killed June 17, 2014
Terming Savchenko Ukraine’s “Joan of Arc”, Olivia Ward writes, “She has shattered sexist stereotypes to become a poster girl for Ukraine’s battle with its giant neighbour, which has seized the Crimean Peninsula and is now eyeing Ukraine’s turbulent eastern region.”
Savchenko has become a cause célèbre of the far right in Ukraine as a result of her detention. She was appointed to the Ukrainian Parliament (‘Rada’) following the election of Oct. 26, 2014 by the ‘Fatherland’ electoral machine of the billionaire, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. (In Ukraine’s electoral system, parties appoint approximately half the seats to the Rada, proportional to the votes they receive.) Savchenko resigned from the armed forces following her appointment.
Small rallies demanding her release from custody were held in Ukraine’s larger cities on January 26.
Savchenko told a television news interview last spring that she took leave from the air force because she could not countenance what she considered the timidity of the Ukrainian government in not going to war against Russia. Her delusional logic was the following: since the war in the east is against a foreign, invading power, Russia, and its local lackeys (whom the Toronto Star and other Western media term ‘separatist’ or ‘pro-Russian’ rebels), the Ukraine government should declare war on Russia and undertake a full military mobilization.
There is a twisted logic to Savchenko’s argument. Kyiv’s police operation in eastern Ukraine does, indeed, amount to full scale war. Its army is in the field and is shelling towns and cities. The Kyiv government has declared martial law in the war zone and effectively exercises martial law throughout the country. It has given its police the right to preventively detain or even shoot on sight so-called “separatists”.
How can the neighbouring governments of Ukraine in eastern Europe, or a skeptical public in western Europe and North America, be convinced of the mission of a government in Kyiv going to war against its own people? Kyiv and its think-tank advisors from NATO countries have turned to a time-worn prop—the ‘anti-terrorist’ ideology of the post 9/11/2001 world. Kyiv calls its civil war in eastern Ukraine an “Anti-Terrorist Operation”. Voilà. Surely an endeavour so titled must be virtuous and worthy!
But that ruse proved unsatisfactory for the purist Savchenko. She wants the unblemished story, as her ideology would have it. Forget the props– she wants all-out war against her fellow citizens in eastern Ukraine, and with Russia, even.
The Russian court has appointed lawyers to defend Savchenko. Her psychological state will be a factor in any trial. Her family has engaged the services of a Ukrainian lawyer who is traveling to Russia to defend her and is working with Russian-appointed court lawyers.
Nadiya Savchenko’s story was featured in the Nov 14, 2014 issue of the weekly fashion magazine in France, Elle. The magazine published a glamour story about the small number of women in Ukraine who have volunteered to fight with the extreme-right battalions. The magazine editors were caught out by some readers who noticed that one of the women that it featured was a brazen neo-Nazi who displays her fascist ideology on social media, including photos of herself giving Hitler salutes. The magazine apologized for glamorizing that particular neo-Nazi, but not for the overall adulation of Ukraine’s far-right battalions that its article lavished on readers.
EU threatens Russia with new sanctions over Nadiya Savchenko detention
European MPs have declared an “illegal kidnapping” of the Ukrainian pilot detained by Russian authorities and further demand Nadezhda Savchenko’s release.
In a plenary session on Thursday in Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that condemns Russia over the detention of Ukrainian pilot Savchenko. The resolution goes on to warn Russia of possible impending sanctions as well as prosecution should the detention continue.
Calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of Nadezhda Savchenko”, the European Parliament harshly condemned the Russian Federation for what the body deemed “its illegal kidnapping, and confinement” of the Ukraine pilot without trial for almost a year.
European MPs cited commitments to the Minsk agreements as well, citing a paragraph that discusses the exchange of prisoners according to the principle “all for all”. The EU body suggests Russia has no legal jurisdiction to take action against the pilot accused of complicity in the June 17 killing of two Russian journalists, Igor Kornelyuk and sound producer Anton Voloshin. They died during a mortar attack on a rebel checkpoint outside Luhansk.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has pointedly referred to the pilot’s actions as a gunner aboard an Aidar Batallion chopper, a position from which she allegedly reported the journalists’ location and directed fire for the mortar attack that killed the men outside Lugansk.
The European Commission spokespersons this week addressed their side of the situation. “The European Parliament considers that the detention of Savchenko is a violation of the Geneva Convention; we therefore stress that those responsible for her illegal detention in Russia may be subject to international sanctions or prosecution for their actions.”
MEPs also cited Savchenko for having an outstanding military record, and the fact she was the only woman in the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent in Iraq. She was the first woman admitted to the Academy of the air force of Ukraine. The parliamentarians also noted the Ukraine pilot is eligible for diplomatic immunity based on her being a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and member of the country’s delegation to PACE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Also in the resolution are demands for the immediate release of all other Ukrainian citizens illegally detained in Russia, including Ukrainian film Director Oleg Sentsov and son of the leader of the Crimean Tatars, Hauser Dzhemilev. The European Parliament “urges the President of France and Chancellor of Germany and the foreign ministers of these countries to raise the issue of the release of Savchenko at the next meeting of the contact group on the implementation of the Minsk agreements in the “channel” format.
Finally, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and the EU foreign service have been given a mandate to closely monitor the situation around Savchenko, to raise this issue in meetings with representatives of the Russian authorities in a variety of formats and report to the European Parliament on the results of these efforts.
In Ottawa, sister of jailed Ukrainian pilot calls on Canada to help
By Kim Mackrael, The Globe and Mail, May 1, 2015
The sister of a 33-year-old Ukrainian helicopter pilot who has been imprisoned for nearly a year in Russia is calling on Ottawa to press for her release amid reports that her health is deteriorating.
Vira Savchenko met with parliamentarians, including the government’s junior foreign affairs minister and members of Canada’s Ukrainian community during a two-day trip to Ottawa earlier this week. The visit was part of a global campaign organized by Vira and her mother, and aimed at drawing attention to Nadiya Savchenko’s plight.
Nadiya, a lieutenant in Ukraine’s military, was captured last year by pro-Russia separatists while fighting with a volunteer battalion in Eastern Ukraine, her family says. She has been in Russian custody since June, 2014, and is charged with helping guide a mortar attack that killed two Russian state television journalists.
Her family says Nadiya could not have had a role in the attack because she was already a prisoner when the two journalists were killed. Vira said cell phone records prove Nadiya was not in the area and could not have known the journalists were there.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Vira said her sister’s health has worsened after multiple hunger strikes during her detention. Nadiya’s weight has dropped significantly, Vira said, making calls for her release increasingly urgent.
“This is about the price of freedom, the price of fairness and justice,” Vira said through a translator. She said she believes her sister is less worried about her own health than she is about those issues.
Media reports from Ukraine this week indicate that Nadiya may be transferred to a Moscow hospital.
Nadiya became involved with a volunteer battalion because she was disappointed the Ukrainian military did not fight against the annexation of Crimea, her sister said. After asking to serve with the military in Eastern Ukraine, Vira said, her sister joined a volunteer group on the front line for two week-long periods during her time off from the military.
Vira said that when her sister was captured, Nadiya was about to quit the military to join the volunteers full time.
She said she has visited multiple European capitals in recent months in an effort to focus more attention on Nadiya’s situation. Her mother was in New York earlier in April and met with Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“The international pressure is important so that the Kremlin understands that Ukraine isn’t alone and that the international community supports the position of Ukraine vis-à-vis the prisoners Russia is holding,” Vira said. “So, in that sense, solidarity is important to show the Kremlin that this isn’t just something that Ukrainians care about, but it’s something that the rest of the world cares about.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson issued a statement earlier this year calling for Nadiya’s release and condemning what he called her “illegal incarceration.” Vira said she was pleased the EU Parliament approved a resolution calling for her sister’s release, and hopes other Western countries will do the same. The U.S. Senate passed a similar resolution earlier this year.
She remains hopeful her sister could be released next month, when the Russian government plans an amnesty day.
But Nadiya’s lawyer, Mark Feygin, has said he is preparing a case to have her identified as a prisoner of war – a strategy that could take several months, Vira said.