Jailed Ukraine pilot heads home under
prisoner swap with Russia: sources
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[May 25, 2016]
By Maria Tsvetkova and Pavel Polityuk
MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian
servicewoman Nadiya Savchenko was heading home on a plane from Russian
captivity on Wednesday, part of an exchange for two Russians detained in
Ukraine, two sources close to the swap told Reuters.
Handing over Savchenko, whose release has been demanded by Western
governments and who has become a national hero in Ukraine, would ease
tensions between Moscow and the West a few weeks before the European
Union decides whether to extend sanctions against Russia.
There was no official confirmation of the exchange, but the two sources
close to the arrangements said it was already underway.
A plane was en route from Russia to Ukraine carrying Savchenko home,
according to one of the sources. "They are coming back," said the
source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In parallel, the two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny
Yerofeyev, were in the process of being returned to Russian soil, the
second source close to the swap said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was to make a statement later on
Wednesday, his office said.
Earlier, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Poroshenko himself
had flown to Russia to collect Savchenko, but there was no confirmation
of that in Kiev or Moscow.
SYMBOL OF RESISTANCE
Savchenko, a military pilot, volunteered to fight with a ground unit
against pro-Moscow separatists who rose up against Kiev's rule in
She was captured and put on trial in southern Russia, charged with
complicity in the deaths of Russian journalists who were killed by
artillery while covering the conflict.
A Russian court in March sentenced her to 22 years in jail. While in a
Russian jail, she was elected a member of the Ukrainian parliament and
is widely seen in Ukraine as a symbol of resistance against Russia.
Yerofeyev and Alexandrov both told Reuters in interviews last year they
were Russian special forces soldiers who were captured while carrying
out a secret operation in eastern Ukraine.
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Ukrainian military pilot Nadezhda Savchenko looks out from a
defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, May 6,
2015. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
But Moscow, which denies it had troops in eastern Ukraine, has never
publicly acknowledged that the two men were acting on its orders.
Russia's relations with its neighbour Ukraine have been toxic since
an uprising in 2014 forced out the Moscow-backed Ukrainian leader
Viktor Yanukovich and installed a pro-Western administration.
Russia then annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula. Moscow said it was
protecting the local Russian-speaking population from persecution by
the new authorities in Kiev, but Western governments called it an
illegal land-grab and imposed sanctions on Moscow.
Soon after, pro-Moscow separatists began an armed separatist
rebellion in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, an area with a
large-Russian speaking community. Fighting between the rebels and
Ukraine's forces killed thousands of people.
A fragile ceasefire has been in place since last year, but there is
no permanent settlement to the conflict.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Writing by Christian Lowe;
Editing by Gareth Jones)
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