Czech politicians express solidarity with imprisoned Ukrainian pilot

Nadiya Savchenko, photo: ČTK

A number of Czech politicians have expressed support for Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot on trial in Russia for allegedly helping to cause the deaths of two Russian journalists in 2014. Savchenko is currently on hunger strike, and refusing to accept any verdict handed down by what she has described as a “totalitarian regime and a petty tyrant-dictator”.

Nadiya Savchenko,  photo: ČTK
This week, hundreds of prominent figures spanning more than 20 countries put their signatures to a Polish-initiated open letter to the Russian authorities calling for the “immediate and unconditional” release of Nadiya Savchenko, a volunteer pilot who was serving in eastern Ukraine before being captured by pro-Russian separatists in June 2014. Among the signatories are Czech MEP Pavel Telička, and former Czech ambassadors to Russia Petr Kolář and Luboš Dobrovský.

Nadiya Savchenko, 34, has reportedly been refusing both food and water since March 3. Russian authorities claim that on June 17 she caused the deaths of two Russian state TV journalists, Anton Voloshin and Igor Korneliuk, during fighting near the Ukrainian town of Luhansk. But the defence insists the men were struck by artillery shelling hours after Savchenko was captured. She is also accused of illegally crossing the Russian border disguised as a refugee.

People shout slogans in support of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko during a rally outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev,  Ukraine,  March 6,  2016  (photo: ČTK)
In her final statement to the Donetsk-based court presiding over her trial since last summer, Savchenko, who since her imprisonment has also been elected an MP to the Ukrainian parliament, described her 20 month imprisonment as illegal. She also demanded to be returned home and called the trial a “farce”. If found guilty, Savchenko faces up to 23 years in prison.

Political leaders from across the democratic word have been expressing solidarity with Savchenko. In a statement released on Tuesday, US Vice President Joe Biden described the soldier as “proudly serving her country” before she was “unjustly imprisoned”.

People shout slogans in support of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko during a rally outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev,  Ukraine,  March 6,  2016  (photo: ČTK)
A number of Czech politicians have also been taking up the case. Christian Democrat deputy prime minister Pavel Bělobrádek announced Tuesday that he is to pen a personal letter to Russian leader Vladimir Putin calling for Savchenko’s release: “I want to address President Putin, via the Russian embassy, and express our discontent over what appears to be taking place – namely the violation of human rights and also international law.”

Also on Tuesday opposition TOP 09 party leader Miroslav Kalousek sought to bring up the case of Nadiya Savchenko in the Czech parliament, but was thwarted by a communist party procedural objection. In a later press briefing, Kalousek expressed fury at his communist colleagues:

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“We were unable to table a resolution today in parliament due to a veto by Putin’s ‘fifth column’. The only thing we can do right now is call on our colleagues supporting this resolution to put their names to it anyway. We will then ask the chairman of the foreign affairs committee to direct this document to the Russian embassy. I’m convinced we’ll have a majority.”

Kalousek also described Savchenko as a soldier doing nothing more than defending her country on the soil of her country.

Responding to claims of willful obstruction, communist deputies' group chairman Pavel Kováčik said his party did not want to partake in a knee-jerk reaction to an apparently “media-fuelled” campaign.