Russian court finds Ukrainian pilot guilty of killing journalists

(Xinhua)      Updated : 2016-03-22

Former Ukrainian army pilot Nadezhda Savchenko listens to her lawyer Nikolai Polozov from a glass-walled cage during a verdict hearing at a court in the southern border town of Donetsk in Rostov region, Russia, in this still image taken from video March 21, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

MOSCOW - A Russian court has found Ukrainian army pilot Nadezhda Savchenko guilty of complicity in killing civilians, including two Russian journalists, in 2014, the RIA Novosti news agency reported Monday.

"Savchenko has committed murder following a prior arrangement by a group of persons, based on hatred and enmity," it quoted the presiding judge as saying in the courtroom.

The actions of the accused were motivated by hatred toward people in the rebellious Lugansk region in eastern Ukraine, as well as against Russian-speaking people, the judge said.

The 34-year-old Ukrainian female pilot was also found guilty of illegally crossing the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Prosecutors have asked to sentence Savchenko to 23 years in prison.

The Ukrainian pilot rejected the ruling and demanded her release and return to Ukraine. She said that she would resume a hunger strike.

Savchenko has been tried in Russia after being accused of directing artillery fire during hostilities between Kiev government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine in June 2014, which resulted in the killing of two Russian reporters.

The pilot has denied the charges and said she had been kidnapped in Ukraine and then handed over to Russian authorities.

Savchenko, who is considered a national hero by many Ukrainians, announced a hunger strike earlier this month, but stopped it following a request by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Many world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have demanded the immediate release of Savchenko. The Kremlin, in response, said it was not going to interfere in the trial.

The final verdict to Savchenko is yet to be announced.