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Russia detained sister of jailed pilot Savchenko at border, says Ukraine

AFP/File | Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko was sentenced to 22 years in prison over the 2014 murder of two Russian reporters

Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of detaining the sister of jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko and seizing her passport while she was in a Ukrainian diplomatic car at a border crossing between the two countries.

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The press service of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Savchenko’s sister had been told by a Russian border guard that she was on a federal wanted list, without giving a reason, and prevented her from leaving Russia.

Poroshenko has alerted Ukraine’s international partners about the incident, Poroshenko’s office said. It comes hours after the Russian news agency RIA reported that a procedure to extradite Nadezhda Savchenko had begun, quoting one of her lawyers.

A Russian court sentenced Savchenko to 22 years in jail on March 22 after finding her guilty of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists during the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. She denied any involvement. “Vira Savchenko and our consul locked themselves in the diplomatic car. Russian authorities block the car ignoring its diplomatic status,” Dmytro Kuleba, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, wrote on Twitter.

“I hope the detention of Vira Savchenko doesn’t mean Russia is taking a new hostage and we won’t have to apply #FreeSavchenko to both sisters,” Kuleba said, adding that the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow was working to free her.

Savchenko, 34, is regarded in her homeland as a national hero and symbol of resistance to Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 after a Moscow-backed president was toppled during street protests in Kiev. Russia has also backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Posters demanding her release are visible in many parts of Ukraine, including at Kiev’s international airport and in parliament.

But many in Russia see Savchenko as a Ukrainian nationalist with the blood of civilians on her hands. She was captured by pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in June 2014 at the height of fighting there between Ukrainian forces and the separatists.

Poroshenko has said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed a framework for a deal to secure the release of Savchenko from prison.

The sentencing of two captured Russian servicemen in Ukraine earlier this month has fuelled speculation that they might be swapped for Savchenko.

(REUTERS)

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