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This Ukrainian Woman Might Starve To Death In A Russian Prison


She’s Ukraine’s first female air force pilot and a national hero. But for the last 80 days, she’s been on hunger strike to protest the conditions in the Russian prison where she is being held.

This is Nadia Savchenko. She is what some — particularly those in Ukraine — would call a badass. To Russia, though, she’s an important propaganda asset and a woman they allege is complicit in the murder of journalists.

Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Savchenko, 33, was the first woman to train as an air force pilot in Ukraine and so far is the only woman to be trained on the Soviet-made Sukhoi Su-24 as well as the Mil Mi-24 helicopter.

She was also featured in a U.N. Development Programme-sponsored push for equality in Ukraine’s military United Nations Development Programme in Europe and CIS / Via Flickr: undpeuropeandcis

Last year, Savchenko enlisted with the Aidar Battalion, a volunteer force that until recently was outside the Ukrainian military hierarchy and has been accused of abuses. In June, she was captured while fighting pro-Russia rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.

Igor Golovniov / AP

Footage posted on YouTube showed her handcuffed to a pipe and under interrogation — but defiant — in an undisclosed location.

Russian authorities took her into captivity in July and accused her with being involved in the death of two Russian journalists in Ukraine. Savchenko, they claim, intentionally targeted the journalists with the mortar that killed them.

Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

Savchenko, who a Russian court has ordered to be held in pre-trial detention until at least May now, was actually elected to the Ukrainian parliament while behind bars.

Savchenko holds a sign inside a defendants’ cage as she attends a hearing in Moscow on Feb. 10, 2015, which reads, “I was born Ukrainian, and I die Ukrainian” Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

Meanwhile, the details surrounding just how Savchenko got into Russia are still murky.

Moscow claims she was caught trying to sneak across the border as a refugee. Others maintain that she was kidnapped and hauled across the border by rebels after her plane was shot down.

Either way, the U.S. and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have both called for her release, with the latter accepting her as a member and granting her international immunity.

“The United States deplores her continued ill-treatment and is deeply concerned by reports of her deteriorating health,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. “By any standard, Russia’s detention and treatment of Ms. Savchenko is unacceptable.”

Ukrainians aren’t buying the story that Savchenko was caught while claiming refugee status either, instead making her a national figure. On Sunday, a crowd rallied in Kiev in support of her release.

Sergei Supinsky / AFP / Getty Images

“She’s our Joan of Arc,” Valeriy Ryabykh, a military expert with the Defense Express magazine, said to the Washington Post last year. Ukrainian president Peter Poroshenko awarded her the title of “Hero of Ukraine” on Monday.

Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Savchenko has also been on a hunger strike for the last 80 days. In recent days, she’s begun refusing the glucose injections that have been her only sustenance.

Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

A member of Russia’s own human rights council on Friday said that she’s begun “to have serious problems” with her internal organs and that she “could die in the next few days.”

Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

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