Ukranian pilot on hunger strike agrees to take water

A Ukrainian pilot on trial in Russia has agreed to take water but will continue a hunger strike following an appeal by Ukraine's president.

Nadezhda Savchenko defiant in the dock in Donetsk. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Nadezhda Savchenko, who served in a volunteer battalion against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and is accused of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists there, went on hunger strike and refused to take water after a court hearing last Friday in the southern Russian town of Donetsk.

Human rights advocates had feared that she could die if she kept refusing water. Mark Feygin, a lawyer for Savchenko, posted her letter yesterday saying that she will take water but continue the hunger strike.

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“I will do all I can in order to save myself for the fight ahead and victories for Ukraine and for the truth,” she was quoted as saying.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a letter to Savchenko on Wednesday that she should “save herself” for Ukraine and pledged to do “all it takes” to exchange her for any Russian prisoner and bring her home.

Savchenko was captured by the separatists in July 2014 and later surfaced in Russia on the dock. She says the separatists handed her over to the Russians who took her across the border.

Savchenko is accused of directing artillery fire that killed two Russian journalists – a claim she denies. Moscow also claims that Savchenko escaped from the rebels and crossed the border on her own before she was arrested.

Top officials in Ukraine and elsewhere have been advocating for Savchenko’s release and called her a prisoner of war.

Russian officials have refused to discuss the possibility of a prisoner exchange while Savchenko is waiting for a verdict, expected at the end of March.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters yesterday that the Kremlin “made a note” of Poroshenko’s statement as well as Savchenko’s decision to take water but he refused to comment further.

Earlier this week protesters threw eggs and stones at the Russian embassy in Kiev to demand the release of Savchenko. Ukraine’s embassy in Moscow was also pelted by eggs as dozens of people rallied outside.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia have deteriorated following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.