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Published in Stream:
Day 746: March 4, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Nadezhda Savchenko Begins Dry Hunger Strike, Lawyers Say She Will Not Be Dissuaded
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Lawyers defending Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian prisoner of war on trial in Russia after being illegally transported from separatist captivity in Lugansk, say that their client has formally declared a "dry" hunger strike and demands no intervention to save her life.

Yesterday Savchenko announced her intent to stop drinking water as of today after the judge at her trial in the Russian border town of Donetsk cut her off during her final speech.


Nikolai Polozov, one of Savchenko's lawyers, wrote on his Facebook page this morning:

"Been to see Nadiya. He decision is unchanged. Nadezhda Savchenko's only condition and demand before ceasing her dry hunger strike is her immediate return to Ukraine.

Nadezhda's sister Vera and the consul will now meet with her. But, judging by everything, there is no chance of Nadiya changing her mind."

Another of her lawyers, Mark Feygin, posted a photo of Savchenko's latest statements on Twitter:

Have left Nadezhda at the jail. This is her statement.

In the longer letter, Savchenko writes in Russian:

I, Nadezhda Viktorivna Savchenko, a Ukrainian, a citizen of Ukraine, declare a dry hunger strike from March 4, 2016, until my return to Ukraine, alive or dead!

Savchenko wrote that her dry hunger strike was "a protest against the actions of the Russian authorities, the Russian intelligence services, the investigators, judges and prosecutors of the Russian Federation."

They are guilty of violations of international law, by abducting me from Ukraine, forcibly transporting to Russia and illegally holding me in Russian jails, and the crooked trial hanging over me.

I prohibit attempts to induce me out of my hunger strike in the SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] or in Russia in general.

I prohibit any tests on me or for anyone to force me to take any medication. I prohibit Russian doctors or SIZO staff to touch me. I will agree only to be seen by doctors from Ukraine or Europe.


If I am still alive by March 9 [the date the trial is due to resume], I demand to be brought to the courtroom.

In the event of my death, I prohibit an autopsy on my body and demand it be delivered whole to my mother and sister.

My decision is final.

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group translates the shorter note, written in Ukrainian:

Freedom has no price!

I don’t believe anyone in Russia! I am not afraid, and not asking for anything!

This is my final word!

With Ukraine in my heart, Nadiya Savchenko.

Coynash's comments on Savchenko's statements over the last 24 hours are worth reading, as they highlight not only the huge risk Savchenko is taking with her life, but also the impact of failing to lodge an appeal in the hope that a quick conviction will allow her to return to Ukraine:

In protest over the sudden refusal to let her give her final statement, Nadiya Savchenko has announced that from Friday she will refuse even water. Her defiance is courageous as ever, her speech stirring, but the chilling fear remains that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has no track record for respecting human life, will not budge.   

The former military pilot was reacting to the sudden about-turn in court on Thursday and announcement that her final address to the court would be postponed until Feb 9.  If the delay was aimed at preventing the foreign journalists present reporting her powerful indictment of Russia’s treatment of her, it almost certainly backfired.  If Savchenko maintains her threat to go on a total hunger strike from Friday, then it is likely that by March 9, she will already be in a gravely weakened state.  She has not been taking food since mid-December and she will surely lose strength rapidly. 

The postponement until March 9 was announced just after 16.00 and clearly came as a shock to the defence team.  Ilya Novikov tweeted that it could be to prevent her final address, or because something was wrong with the paperwork and they wanted to send the case back to the investigators.  The latter would seem incredible given the huge amount of elements in the prosecution’s case that do not add up.  The equally flawed case against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov did not stop a military court in August 2015 from passing a 20 year sentence, despite absolutely no grounds, and after one of the two other defendants had, at considerable risk to himself, retracted all testimony as given under torture.  All democratic countries and European structures have made their condemnation of the proceedings abundantly clear. 

The address Nadiya Savchenko was planning to make is undoubtedly strong. She rejects all the charges and any verdict, and reiterates her earlier stance that she will not appeal a conviction.  She says that she wants the entire “civilized democratic world to see that Russia is a third-world country with a totalitarian regime ruled by a petty dictator, a country that spits on human rights and international law”. She refuses to have any part in an absurd trial where those who abduct and torture people then put them on trial. 

As noted here, this position is of serious concern.  In fact, Nadiya Savchenko has taken part in the trial up till now, despite its absurdity and the obvious collaboration between the prosecution and court.  Even if she is returned to Ukraine, as is to be hoped, Russia abducted her and has held her in detention for nearly two years.  It would be a fatal mistake to reject the opportunity to take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights, yet the latter would be forced to reject any application if all possible appeals had not been lodged.  The Court will not make exceptions just because the outcome is known in advance.

In the written version of her address, posted by her sister Vera, Nadiya says that she will continue the present hunger strike for 10 days until the verdict, in the absence of appeal, comes into force.  She notes that this is regardless of how long it takes to get the Ukrainian translation, since she’s seen how they drag things out.

After that, she planned to warn, she would go on a total dry hunger strike.  She predicts that Russia would have around 10 days after which, if they had not returned her alive, they would be returning her body.  She warned that during those 10 days her sister would stand vigil outside the prison. If they imprisoned Vera Savchenko, then her elderly mother would stand in. If they dared arrest her, then there would be friends, and simply Ukrainians.  They couldn’t arrest them all. 

If the court had seen the speech in advance, then this part of the text would have undoubtedly made them turn pale.  Nadiya Savchenko points out that there will be ordinary decent Russians who will come to the prison gates to provide hot tea and food for those standing vigil.  Each of them understands that their child could end up there also in that prison which is Russia. 

This, she says is how Maidan begins – the mass protests that the Russian regime fears like fire.  The Kremlin would be better off returning her to Ukraine now and alive! 

The speech is stirring, but the chilling fear remains that the Kremlin will not react.  Just over a year ago, Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the renowned Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP who himself spent 15 years in Soviet labour camps, called on Nadiya to stop her first hunger strike.  He used the same argument with which, when he was equally resolute in 1975, Andrei Sakharov had saved his life.   Mustafa Dzhemiliev had been allowed a visit from his mother and elder brother because his condition had become critical.  He explains that even then he was totally resolute.  Then his brother managed to slip him a card from Sakharov.  It read: “Mustafa, son, I’ve done everything I could and I now ask just one thing: enough of this hunger strike – your death will only bring joy to our enemies." 

Nadiya Savchenko did not immediately heed that call, but did finally stop the hunger strike and has continued fighting through other means.  She can continue doing so now.  A total hunger strike, without even water, in a country whose leaders have so often demonstrated their total lack of respect for human life is a terrifying risk.

Mar 04, 2016 13:41 (GMT)
-- Pierre Vaux