Ukraine Day 828: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
- READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT:
Both men are seen as political prisoners by Ukrainians who have been campaigning for their release, invoking pledges by Russian authorities made in April to extradite them:
Irina Herashchenko, deputy chair of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, told TV channel 112 that “news of two political prisoners is expected to be positive,” although she did not name them.
Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko also made a statement today expecting a positive outcome in these 2 cases:
“I can already state that Soloshenko and Afanasiev, whose health has significantly deteriorated, are going to be released. We expect progress in this issue. At the same time, I would like to thank Iryna Herashchenko for the return of our prisoners. We expect progress not later than in three or four weeks,” Poroshenko said.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Crimean Tatars, a minority Muslim group on the Crimean peninsula, have been heavily persecuted since they objected to Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula in 2014. The Mejlis, the Tatar parliament, has been shuttered and its leaders hounded by authorities and local thugs.
Now, Ervin Ibragimov — a member of executive council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars and a member of the Tatar Mejlis (which is now banned on the Russian-occupied peninsula as an extremist group) — has been kidnapped.
‘It’s a video from a surveillance camera in a nearby store. There’s video of Ervin Ibragimov’s abduction. First, they were trying to force him into a minibus. He tried to escape, but he was captured and forced into a car’, – member of ATR TV channel staff Ayshe Umerova wrote of Facebook.
The video is below:
In the video a van is visible in the top right corner. A car pulls up and its lights blur the video. There is an edit in the video (see the time stamp in the top right corner), which may just be the elimination of ‘dead air,’ and then men can be seen emerging from the car and walking toward the van. One of those men is reportedly Ervin Ibragimov, who appears to break away briefly before he is tackled and put in the van, which drives off.
Ukraine Today translates a Facebook post by local journalist Nadj Femi:
“The Crimean Tatar ex-deputy of the city council and member of the regional Mejlis Ervin Ibragimov has been reported missing in Bakhchisaray. His car was found abandoned in the middle of the road. His parents know nothing about his whereabouts. It’s impossible to get in touch with him,” she wrote.
In the last month mosques in Crimea have been attacked, and Russian authorities even detained hundreds of worshippers:
While Ukraine has been celebrating the return of Nadiya Savchenko after nearly two years in captivity, the Ukrainian military today announced that two more of their soldiers had been captured by Russian-backed fighters.
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, told reporters at noon today that two soldiers had been captured near Donetsk within the last two days.
Both are currently being held in Donetsk city, he said.
“The Ukrainian authorities and military command are making every effort for their release. There is no more detailed information at the moment.”
In addition, Lysenko reported that two Ukrainian servicemen were wounded yesterday by shelling in the front-line Avdeyevka industrial park, northeast of Donetsk.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russian-backed fighters conducted 33 attacks yesterday.
In particular, the Ukrainians claim that Russian-backed forces attempted to break through defensive lines near Novotroitskoye, on the highway between Donetsk and Mariupol.
The report says that Ukrainian troops repelled the attack, which was supported by BMP infantry fighting vehicles, snipers and grenade-launcher fire. One of the attackers’ BMPs was reportedly destroyed.
Earlier Savchenko told reporters that she is “ready to once again give my life for Ukraine on the battlefield.” She also said that she wants to fight to bring Ukraine’s less-famous political prisoners home from Russia.
— James Miller
Nadiya Savchenko briefly addressed reporters earlier today after her plane landed in Kiev. Kyiv Post reports:
Savchenko briefly addressed the journalists in the airport.
“I honestly don’t know how I managed to do it,” she said, thanking all who helped release her.
Savchenko made some political statements, as well. In a shouting voice, she said that she will make sure that “the heroes of Ukraine are coming to take places in Verkhovna Rada.”
Savchenko is actually a member of the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, as well as the European parliamentary delegation — these have largely been symbolic appointments as she achieved these when she was in Russian prison, but now that she is free this may play heavily in what happens to Savchenko next.
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko was captured by Russian-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine on June 17, 2014. She was kidnapped across the border into Russia and was then tried for the murder of two Russian state journalists who were killed while reporting from Ukraine.
The evidence against her was debunked, and human rights groups and governments across the world have always considered her a political prisoner, the victim of yet another Russian show trial.
Read our summary of Savchenko’s story and her trial here:
Nadiya Savchenko – Victim of a Modern Show Trial
A Ukrainian prisoner of war is now on the fifth day of a dry hunger strike, accepting neither food nor water, and nearing the end of a show trial in the Russian border town of Donetsk.
Today Savchenko has been freed.
Earlier today Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko flew to Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, with two Russian servicemen, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov, who had been captured by Ukrainian forces while fighting in Ukraine. Despite the fact that the Russian government denied that these men were part of the Russian military, Russian President Vladimir Putin has apparently traded Savchenko for his soldiers.
Putin has pardoned Savchenko, an act which presumes that she is guilty. As we reported earlier, Putin said he made this decision after meeting the widows of the two Russian state TV reporters who were killed (but who were, the evidence is clear, not killed by Savchenko).
Russian media report that President Vladimir Putin has announced that he “pardoned” Nadiya Savchenko, ensuring the official narrative of her guilt.
LifeNews reports that Putin met Marina Kornelyuk and Irina Voloshina, the widows of two state television journalists, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who were killed in a mortar attack shortly after Savchenko’s capture, and whose murders she was convicted of in a show trial.
Putin said that the two women had requested the pardoning, and thanked them for their decision.
According to Putin, the two had met with Viktor Medvedchuk, a key pro-Russian figure in Ukrainian politics who has become heavily involved in the negotiations over prisoner swaps, on March 23 and subsequently decided to seek a pardon.
Ukrainian military officer Nadiya Savchenko, who is expected to arrive at Boryspil Airport shortly, was captured by separatist fighters in Ukraine’s Lugansk region in June, 2014. She was interrogated on video and subsequently taken by car to Russia where she was jailed on charges of directing mortar fire that killed two Russian state television journalists.
After a trial that saw repeated refusals by the Russian authorities to admit exonerating evidence from her defense, and several long hunger strikes that damaged her health, Savchenko was convicted of murder and “illegally crossing the Russian border” on March 21 this year.
President Petro Poroshenko is due to make an address to the nation at 15:15 (12:15 GMT).
In exchange for her release, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov, two Russian GRU soldiers captured in Ukraine last year and convicted in April of terrorism, have been returned to Moscow.
— Pierre Vaux
Russia’s LifeNews, which is suspected of close links to the state security services, reports that Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev are aboard flight RSD84, which left a Ukrainian military airport outside Kiev this morning and is now over Russian airspace, bound for Russia.
— Pierre Vaux
Reuters’ Russian-language service reports that Savchenko has already departed Rostov-on-Don aboard President Poroshenko’s plane:
Translation: Ukrainian Savchenko has taken off on the Ukrainian President’s plane from Rostov-on-Don for Kiev – source close to the exchange.
We stress that so far, this report has not been confirmed by any other sources.
But there are certainly further signs that the exchange is really happening.
InfoResist reports, citing President Poroshenko’s press office, that he will make an address to the nation at 14:00 Kiev time (11:00 GMT).
Meanwhile one detail picked up by Ukrainian media is that an aircraft belonging to the Rossiya Special Flight Squadron, which ferries top Russian officials, departed from Gostomel Airport, outside Kiev.
The An-148, registered as RSD84, took off at 9:21 GMT and is now over Russian airspace, headed towards Moscow.
Ilya Novikov, a lawyer defending Nadiya Savchenko, has told Interfax-Ukraine that he is now in Rostov-on-Don and headed to the airport.
“Within the course of the next two hours I will have important news about Nadiya Savchenko.”
Nadiya’s sister Vira told the 112 television channel that she has yet to receive official confirmation of the prisoner swap reported to be taking place in Rostov-on-Don today, however she would not expect such announcements to be made until the exchange was complete.
Russia’s Interfax news agency reports that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is flying to Rostov-on-Don today with two Russian captured Russian servicemen, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov, to exchange them for Nadiya Savchenko.
Lawyers for the Russians, who were convicted of terrorism by a Ukrainian court last month, said earlier that they had submitted a petition for clemency to Poroshenko.
But less than two hours later, Oksana Sokolovskaya, who is defending Yerofeyev, told Interfax that she had been informed that the President was taking the two with him on a flight to Russia for the exchange.
In addition, an unnamed source has told Interfax that Poroshenko’s plane is shortly expected to land at Rostov-on-Don Airport.
According to the source, Savchenko has already been brought to the airport ahead of Poroshenko’s arrival.
Notably, none of Savchenko’s lawyers have commented on these reports yet.
However one of them, Ilya Novikov, did tweet around three hours ago:
Translation: Vasily, the mascot of pre-trial detention center 3 in Novocherkassk is expecting good shortly. He is not sad, he just doesn’t get a good night’s sleep.
The news follows weeks of often contradictory reports regarding the likelihood and timing of a prisoner exchange deal.
We expect more details on this story soon.