A Russian court sentenced a Ukrainian military pilot, Lt. Nadiya V. Savchenko, to 22 years in prison on Tuesday after finding her guilty of complicity in the deaths of two Russian journalists, in a politically charged case that highlighted the strained relations between Moscow and the West.
When the judge began to read out the sentence, Lieutenant Savchenko reacted by starting to sing a song in Ukrainian. The judge had to stop the proceedings for at least five minutes. The hearing was interrupted again later, after people in the crowd began to sing the Ukrainian anthem.
“Simply put, Lieutenant Savchenko did not get a fair trial, and so her conviction is unsound and should not stand,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“There should be justice for the deaths of Kornelyuk and Voloshin, but justice won’t be served by an unfair trial that was highly politicized from the start,” he said, referring to the two journalists.
The Donetsk City Court said Lieutenant Savchenko had directed mortar fire at a rebel-held checkpoint, resulting in the deaths of two Russian reporters during the height of the fighting in eastern Ukraine in June 2014.
The pilot, considered a martyr in Ukraine and elected to Parliament there in absentia, has denied all charges, saying that she was kidnapped by Russia an hour before the two reporters, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, were killed, and that she was spirited across the border to Russia to face a show trial.