Ukraine-Russian Deal May Free Jailed Pilot

Apr 20, 2016
Originally published on April 20, 2016 3:59 pm
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Ukraine and Russia could be moving towards a deal that would free a woman jailed in Russia for the past two years. She was a military pilot captured during the war in eastern Ukraine. And her case has become a symbol of the conflict between the two countries. Here's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Yesterday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he discussed a possible prisoner swap in a phone conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

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PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

FLINTOFF: Poroshenko said he initiated the call to Putin, and one of the issues discussed was the case of Nadiya Savchenko. Last month, a Russian court sentenced Savchenko to 22 years in prison for the alleged murder of two Russian journalists in 2014. Savchenko was acting as an artillery spotter in eastern Ukraine, and Russian prosecutors say she deliberately targeted two members of a Russian TV crew.

Savchenko's lawyers say cell phone records prove that she was captured before the incident took place. Throughout her long trial, Savchenko has insisted that her case was a Kremlin propaganda stunt, trumped-up to defame Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian public. When the verdict was delivered, the 34-year-old defendant reacted with contempt, drowning out the judge with a Ukrainian song.

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NADIYA SAVCHENKO: (Singing in Ukrainian).

FLINTOFF: There's been speculation in Ukraine for months that Russia might be willing to swap Savchenko for two Russians who were captured during the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Russians were special forces soldiers who were fighting as part of a separatist militia. Russia says they left active service in the Russian military and that they were in Ukraine as volunteers.

Last week, a Ukrainian court convicted the men, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov, of terrorism and sentenced them each to 14 years in prison. The Ukrainian president seemed to be choosing his words carefully, but he said that he believed that he and Putin had agreed on a formula for Savchenko's release.

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POROSHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

FLINTOFF: Poroshenko didn't give a timeline for the release. But he said that he had told Putin that he was ready to send his presidential plane to Russia to bring her home. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.