A hunger-striking Ukrainian pilot on trial in Russia over the killing of two Russian journalists could die before a Russian court sentences her as the state of her health is worsening, her lawyer said.
Nadezhda Savchenko, 34, was captured in eastern Ukraine in 2014 during fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Moscow separatists and handed over to the Russian authorities. She denies any wrongdoing.
The helicopter pilot, who faces up to 25 years in jail if found guilty, has become a national hero for many in Ukraine who see her as a symbol of anti-Kremlin defiance.
Nikolai Polozov, Savchenko’s lawyer, said on Wednesday that she had suffered heart problems and fever since she stopped eating and drinking late last week in protest at what she called a show trial.
A Russian court in the southern Russian region of Rostov-on-Don said on Wednesday it would sentence Savchenko on March 21-22.
“Her life is in danger,” Polozov told Reuters. “As lawyers our main task now is to allow Ukrainian doctors to get to her and monitor the state of her health.”
Appearing in court on Wednesday, Savchenko was defiant as she climbed onto a bench in the glass cage for defendants to raise her middle finger at the judge, an online broadcast from the courtroom showed.
“I don’t accept my guilt or recognise the sentence of a Russian court,” she said in the courtroom, according to a translation from Ukrainian read out by one of her lawyers.
Polozov said Savchenko intended to continue her hunger strike until she was either returned to Ukraine or promised that she would be sent there soon.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Russia had not held discussions on handing over Savchenko to Ukraine and would not do so until the court announces its verdict.
A Kremlin spokesman said it was unacceptable for there to be interference in the case against Savchenko.
A German government spokesman urged Russia to free Savchenko immediately, saying her imprisonment was in breach of the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine that was agreed last year.
“The health situation of Ms. Savchenko because of her hunger strike gives reason for serious concern. Her 20-month imprisonment in solitary confinement with questionable interrogation methods contravenes international standards,” Steffen Seibert said during a regular news conference.
“In addition, there are many questions as to how Ms. Savchenko was brought to Russian territory.”
Russian prosecutors say that in June 2014, during the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, Savchenko helped to direct artillery fire in the Luhansk region where a shell killed two Russian television reporters.
Her lawyers say the time and location of calls made from her mobile phone disprove the allegations. At the time of the incident, Savchenko was fighting with a ground unit.