March 3, 2016 / 11:36 AM / 2 years ago

Female Ukrainian pilot declares hunger strike in protest at Russian trial delay

DONETSK, Russia (Reuters) - A Ukrainian woman pilot, on trial in Russia on charges of complicity in the killing of two Russian journalists, told a court on Thursday she was going on hunger strike to protest at the length of what she said was an unjust legal process.

Former Ukrainian army pilot Nadezhda Savchenko listens to her lawyers Mark Feygin (L) and Ilya Novikov during a court hearing in the southern border town of Donetsk in Rostov region, Russia, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov

Nadezhda Savchenko, 34, had been expected to deliver a final speech to the court in southern Russia in her trial, but the judge abruptly adjourned proceedings until March 9, even though the session still had some time to run.

Sources close to Savchenko, considered a political prisoner and hero by many in her native Ukraine said she had planned to deliver a speech scathing of the Kremlin.

She denies the charges against her.

“I am going on a dry hunger strike starting today. You bloody fools!,” she shouted as proceedings broke up. A “dry” hunger strike means she will also refuse water as well as food.

“You snatched me and have kept me in jail for nearly two years,” Savchenko, who wore a traditional Ukrainian blouse, shouted from a metal cage in the courtroom.

Savchenko’s defense lawyer Ilya Novikov called her case a “show trial”.

State prosecutors’ allegations center on Savchenko’s conduct during the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine pitting pro-Kremlin rebels against the Ukrainian army.

In June 2014, prosecutors say that Savchenko, who had been transferred from the air force to fight with Ukrainian ground forces, had helped direct artillery fire in the Luhansk region where a shell killed two Russian television reporters.

Her defense lawyers told the court on Thursday that the time and location of calls made from her mobile phone disproved the allegations.

Elected a member of Ukraine’s parliament while in captivity, she faces up to 25 years in jail if found guilty.

Western politicians and rights groups have called for her release.

A verdict in the case is expected soon.

Reporting by Sergei Pivovarov and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Richard Balmforth

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