Ukraine sentences two alleged Russian soldiers it says fought with separatists
MOSCOW — A Ukrainian court on Monday sentenced two alleged Russian servicemen to 14 years each in prison for fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s restive southeast, concluding a politically charged trial that may set the stage for a prisoner swap with Russia.
Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, who were captured in a firefight with the Ukrainian army last May, were convicted of terrorism and of “waging aggressive war” against Ukraine, the Kiev court’s verdict read.
While awaiting trial, the two told reporters that they were on active duty in the Russian military, bolstering accusations of the Russian army’s direct intervention in the two-year-old conflict. The Russian Defense Ministry has denied sending materiel or men to fight in southeast Ukraine; it said Alexandrov and Yerofeyev had resigned from the military before traveling to fight in Ukraine as volunteers.
The conviction was widely expected. Meanwhile, defense lawyers for the two men also said that they had been pressured to drop the case.
Last month, Alexandrov’s attorney, Yuriy Grabovskiy, was kidnapped, shot in the head and buried in a garden south of Kiev. Military prosecutors investigating the murder released a video, apparently filmed by his captors, in which Grabovskiy said he would no longer defend Alexandrov in court. No arrests have been made.
The convictions of Alexandrov and Yerofeyev are seen as precursors to a possible prisoner exchange with Russia, where several Ukrainian nationals have been given decades-long prison sentences in connection with Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the conflict in southeast Ukraine.
Among them is Lt.Nadiya Savchenko, a 34-year-old Ukrainian helicopter pilot who was sentenced to 22 years in prison by a Russian court last month for directing artillery fire that killed two Russian journalists in 2014. After her capture, Savchenko was made a member of parliament and awarded the distinction “Hero of Ukraine”. Secretary of State John F. Kerry in a statement last month urged Russia to release her, saying her “trial and continuing imprisonment demonstrate disregard for international standards.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said last month that he would be willing to make a trade for Savchenko.
Asked about a possible prisoner swap last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists the Russian and Ukrainian governments were in contact on the issue but that “it is better not to get ahead of ourselves.”
Alexandrov and Yerofeyev were captured almost three months after Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany signed a truce and “road map” out of the conflict.
Ukraine’s intelligence services said that Yerofeyev had admitted to heading a sabotage and reconnaissance unit of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic. Alexandrov was a member of that unit, the agency said.
While Russian officials have called for the two men’s release, their case has received muted coverage on Russian television.
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