Savchenko trial: Russian court gives verdict on Ukraine pilot

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media captionThe BBC's Olga Ivshina is at the court in Rostov where the hearing is taking place

A Russian judge has been reading the verdict in the case of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was charged over the death of two Russian journalists.

Ms Savchenko is accused of directing the artillery fire in eastern Ukraine in which the two journalists died.

It was initially thought the judge had found her guilty, but her lawyers said a final verdict would be given on Tuesday. She denies all the charges.

Ukraine and some Western countries have condemned the case as a show trial.

The two Russian state TV journalists, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, were killed in mortar fire in June 2014, at the height of fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.

On the same day, Ms Savchenko, 34, says she was captured by rebels and illegally taken to Russia.

Russian prosecutors say she tried to cross the border posing as a refugee.

At the trial: Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, Donetsk

image copyrightEPA
image captionA group of young Russian protesters called for a strong sentence for Ms Savchenko

The last time I saw Nadiya Savchenko in court she was furious, swearing and displaying her middle finger at the judge.

Back to hear the verdict, she looked relaxed, joking and whispering with her lawyers as the chief judge muttered his way through the obligatory full read-out of the verdict.

Her calm could well be because she has no doubt she'll be found guilty and wants this stage of proceedings to be over.

There was a big crowd in court as the process neared its conclusion. Some were wearing Ukrainian traditional shirts or the blue-and-yellow colours of the national flag; another group came in T-shirts emblazoned with photographs of the Russian journalists at the heart of this trial, and slogans blaming Nadiya Savchenko for their death.

It's not clear how many pages the judge still has to read - but the final session on Tuesday is expected to go on as long as necessary until the final verdict and sentence are revealed.

Ms Savchenko, a pilot by training, is accused of having acted as an artillery spotter on the ground.

Her lawyer has argued that phone records prove she was captured by rebels before the attack.

Ms Savchenko had arrived in the area a few days previously to join the volunteer Aidar battalion, loyal to the Ukrainian government.

According to her lawyers, she was captured by the rebels on the morning of 17 June whilst trying to reach several Aidar fighters who had been wounded in an ambush.

Reading the verdict, the judge in the southern Russian town of Donetsk, not far from the Ukrainian border, quoted prosecutors as saying Ms Savchenko had been driven by "political hatred".

The prosecution has called for Ms Savchenko - who was elected as a Ukrainian MP in her absence following her capture - to be jailed for 23 years.

Any sentence will be delivered by the court on Tuesday, after an eventual verdict has been handed down.

image copyrightAFP
image captionNadiya Savchenko has repeatedly expressed her defiance of the court

Earlier, one of her lawyers said there was "no doubt" that the court would find Ms Savchenko guilty and sentence her to a "few dozen years".

"A propaganda machine is at work here, absent of justice and freedom," said Mark Feigin on Twitter.

Western politicians have called for her release.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said she should be freed "immediately and unconditionally" while the US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, described the trial as "farcical".

Relations between Russia and Ukraine - along with its Western allies - have deteriorated since the events of 2014 in Ukraine.

Moscow annexed the southern Crimea peninsula in March 2014 after an unrecognised referendum on self-determination, and is accused of covertly supporting the separatist rebels in the bloody conflict in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

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