High-profile trial of Ukrainian officer begins in Russia

AP News
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Posted: Sep 22, 2015 3:33 PM
High-profile trial of Ukrainian officer begins in Russia

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court on Tuesday began hearing the high-profile case against a Ukrainian officer who is charged in the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine.

Nadezhda Savchenko denied the charges, telling the court "I am a soldier, not a murderer," according to the Tass news agency.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department urged Russia to drop what it described as a "baseless case" against Savchenko.

Russian investigators allege that Savchenko, who served in a volunteer battalion fighting alongside government troops against Russia-backed rebels, provided the coordinates for a mortar attack that killed the journalists in June 2014.

Savchenko, who lawyers say was captured by the rebels and smuggled across the border into Russia, also is charged with entering Russia illegally.

Charges of attempted murder in relation to six Ukrainian citizens were also added to the case.

Prosecutors told the court on Tuesday that Savchenko intentionally targeted the journalists and other civilians, while the defense insisted the journalists were killed during an attack on separatist fighters, Russian news agencies reported.

"I didn't see journalists," Tass quoted Savchenko as saying. "I have never in my life shot at unarmed people. I am a soldier, not a murderer."

Savchenko, who spent 83 days on a hunger strike to protest her detention, has become a hero figure for Ukrainians fighting the separatists and has won a seat in Parliament. Ukrainian officials have campaigned for her release and have been backed by the U.S. and the European Union.

"The United States remains deeply disturbed by the Russian Federation's decision to move forward with this baseless case," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington Tuesday. He urged Russia to dismiss the charges immediately and return Savchenko to her Ukrainian home.

The trial was being held in the small southern Russian town of Donetsk, which has the same name as the Ukrainian city that is the main rebel stronghold.

Reporters and photographers were barred from the courtroom and watched the proceedings by video link.