Sarah Hurst: In Russia women have equal rights. To be tortured and killed. Part 1.

posted 14 Mar 2016, 04:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Mar 2016, 04:50 ]
14 March 2016

by Sarah Hurst

On March 8 each year Russia continues the Soviet tradition of celebrating International Women’s Day. As on Mother’s Day in the West, men make a token gesture, such as giving flowers to their wives. This year, though, Russia is doing something different: allowing Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko to starve herself to death in prison.

Savchenko changed her months-long hunger strike to a “dry” hunger strike on March 4, after the judges at her show trial abruptly shut down proceedings for the holidays before she could make her final statement. Earlier in the trial Savchenko’s lawyers proved her alibi in the deaths of two Russian journalists who had entered eastern Ukraine illegally and were hit by an artillery strike on a militant checkpoint.

A video showed that Savchenko was captured before the shelling of the checkpoint on June 17, 2014, and this has also been confirmed by the Conflict Intelligence Team. An astronomer, Olga Vozyakova, testified in court that the position of the sun in the video further verified the timings. The prosecution’s typically absurd response was that Vozyakova should not have come to court during her working hours.


The prosecution asked for Savchenko to be sentenced to 23 years in prison for allegedly climbing a mobile phone tower (with an injured arm, using a ladder that starts at a height of 7 metres to prevent vandalism), to aim the artillery fire; and additionally for illegally crossing the Russian border. The Russia-backed leader of the “Luhansk People’s Republic”, Igor Plotnitsky, is said to have ordered Savchenko’s release, after which she apparently entered Russia in an attempt to return to Ukraine without re-entering the war zone.

Savchenko’s tireless defence team of Mark Feygin, Nikolai Polozov and Ilya Novikov put forward a different version of events. They made the sensational announcement that Savchenko had been kidnapped and taken to Russia by Pavel Karpov, a former employee of the Russian presidential administration and aide to Vladislav Surkov, who is regarded as the architect of the Ukraine war.
Savchenko was held prisoner and questioned in the down-at-heel Hotel Euro in Voronezh. Hotel staff were vague and confused in court, with one of them claiming she let Savchenko stay for free as a favour to local traffic police. A man in a wig and dark glasses testified via video link, claiming to be FSB agent Alexei Pochechuev, but the defence say that this was not the real Pochechuev who participated in the Savchenko operation.

From Voronezh Savchenko was taken to Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina detention centre, where she started a hunger strike that she eventually agreed to end soon after the murder of Boris Nemtsov in early 2015. She resumed her hunger strike during her trial in Donetsk, Rostov Region.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has given Savchenko the title hero of Ukraine, and she has also been elected to Ukraine’s Supreme Rada and appointed to Ukraine’s PACE delegation, which gives her diplomatic immunity. World leaders and thousands of ordinary people have called for Savchenko’s release. Russia has ignored everything. Poroshenko said after the Minsk talks with Vladimir Putin in February 2015 that Savchenko would be released “soon”.

"I love Ukraine so, so much!" - photo from Sarah Hurst

Despotic dictator

Unable to give her final statement in court, Savchenko released its handwritten text, in which she said: “I do not recognise any guilt, nor the verdict, nor the Russian court. In the case of a guilty verdict there won’t be an appeal. I want the whole democratic, civilised world to understand that Russia is a Third World country with a totalitarian regime and a despotic dictator that spits on human rights and international law.”

Even if Savchenko had aimed the artillery fire that killed the journalists, she would have been doing so in a war against those who invaded her country. Savchenko has said that she took her military oath once for her whole life, and that she is still on duty today. But the concept of honour is not one that Putin is familiar with. Savchenko’s life hangs by a thread. It’s hard to know what may save her. She insists that she will be returned to Ukraine – dead or alive.

First published on X-Soviet, 6 March 2016. Reprinted by kind permission