RUSSIA has freed Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko after holding her for nearly two years, with President Vladimir Putin pardoning her as part of a swap for two Russian servicemen jailed in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president sent his plane to pick up Savchenko in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia and bring her home to Kiev, where she received a hero’s welcome.
“Thank you everyone for fighting for me!” she told a scrum of journalists at Kiev’s Borispol Airport.
“You fought for everyone behind bars. Politicians would have kept silent if people had been silent.
“I would like to say thank you to everyone who wished me well: I have survived because of you.”
The two Russians were also freed on Wednesday, and Russian state television showed them being greeted at a Moscow airport by their wives.
Savchenko was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and sentenced in March to 22 years in prison for her alleged role in the deaths of two Russian journalists in the conflict zone. Her refusal to bend after nearly two years in Russian custody has made her a national hero in Ukraine.
The two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured last year.
They acknowledged being Russian officers, but the Russian Defence Ministry claimed they had resigned from active duty.
They were tried in a Kiev court, which sentenced them to 14 years in prison after finding them guilty of terrorism and waging war in eastern Ukraine.