As Show Trial Begins, Shaheen Calls on Russia to Immediately Release Ukrainian Fighter Pilot Held Captive

Letter to Russian Ambassador Accuses Russia of Violating Nadiya Savchenko’s Fundamental Human Rights

September 23, 2015

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations European Affairs Subcommittee, sent a letter to the Russian ambassador calling for the immediate release of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko. Savchenko has been held by Russia since June of 2014, when she was captured by Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine and taken across the border. Despite broad condemnation from the international community, yesterday a Russian court began her trial on trumped-up charges. Senator Shaheen’s letter reads in part:  

“I write today regarding your country’s illicit detention of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko …Your government’s decision to make an example of Nadiya, a woman who has vowed to defend her fellow Ukrainians and their right to self-determination, is a violation of her fundamental human rights.”

The letter points out that continuing to hold Savchenko in captivity will only backfire on Russia:

“Her mistreatment will also only engender further anti-Russian sentiment among Ukrainians … Her defiance of your government’s mistreatment — undertaking an 80-day hunger strike in protest of her imprisonment and proudly wearing a T-shirt displaying the Ukrainian Trident during legal proceedings – has made her a national hero...” 

Savchenko is well-known in Ukraine as one of the first women to serve as a pilot in the Ukrainian air force. She is a member of Ukrainian Parliament, and in 2014 she joined a volunteer battalion to fight separatist forces in Ukraine’s east where she was captured by Russian-backed separatists and brought to Russia.

Earlier this year, Shaheen traveled to Poland and Latvia, where she reiterated America’s support for allies in Central and Eastern Europe that are under threat from Russian aggression. During her trip, Shaheen presented an Atlantic Council Freedom Award in absentia to Savchenko’s sister in honor of her courage defending and advancing the cause of freedom in her country.

Savchenko is one of 20 women political prisoners whose release is sought in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which served as an historic roadmap for empowering and promoting the human rights of women and girls. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has spearheaded this effort as nations prepare to gather at the United Nations to set goals for the next two decades.

The text of the letter reads as follows:

 

September 23, 2015

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak

Embassy of the Russian Federation

2650 Wisconsin Ave., NW

Washington, D.C. 20007

Dear Ambassador Kislyak,

In recognition of the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration on gender equality and women’s rights, at the beginning of this month the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations began a public campaign to highlight 20 women who are currently detained as political prisoners around the world.  In support of this effort and as the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations European Affairs Subcommittee, I write today regarding your country’s illicit detention of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko. 

Nadiya, who was captured by Russian-backed rebels in Eastern Ukraine last summer and smuggled across the border into Russia, faces a possible 25-year prison sentence in a show trial that began yesterday.  Your government’s decision to make an example of Nadiya, a woman who has vowed to defend her fellow Ukrainians and their right to self-determination, is a violation of her fundamental human rights.  Her mistreatment will also only engender further anti-Russian sentiment among Ukrainians. 

Before her kidnapping, Nadiya had already achieved recognition as the first women to serve as a pilot in the Ukrainian military.  Her defiance of your government’s mistreatment — undertaking an 80-day hunger strike in protest of her imprisonment and proudly wearing a T-shirt displaying the Ukrainian Trident during legal proceedings – has made her a national hero in Ukraine, and I mean that quite literally.  Nadiya has been awarded the title of “Hero of Ukraine” by President Petro Poroshenko, and her fellow citizens elected her to Parliament.  At every turn, Nadiya Savchenko has been courageous and indomitable – a true champion of the principles outlined in the Beijing Declaration.  Earlier this summer I was pleased to present Nadiya – in absentia - with the Atlantic Council’s Freedom Award for her actions.

To be clear – Nadiya Savchenko is not the only woman currently imprisoned in Russia for political reasons, and our call to action is not limited to her case.  Countries around the world have made great strides in empowering women in the 20 years since the Beijing Declaration, however much more must be done to achieve the goals set by the conference.  I am hopeful that you will work to advance the cause of equal rights on behalf of your country, and urge you to release political prisoners like Nadiya Savchenko without delay.

Sincerely,

Senator Jeanne Shaheen