Ukraine and Russia have reached a deal to free a jailed Ukrainian pilot, President Petro Poroshenko said Tuesday, suggesting that she will be swapped for two Russian servicemen jailed in Ukraine this week.
Nadezhda Savchenko, who was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014, was sentenced to 22 years in prison in Russia last month for her alleged role in the deaths of two Russian journalists.
Her capture and trial became a rallying point for Ukrainians at home and abroad.
“I think we have agreed on a certain algorithm that would allow Nadezhda’s release,” Poroshenko said Tuesday, a day after he had a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking at a televised news conference in Kiev with the Danish prime minister, he mentioned Monday’s conviction of two Russian officers in Kiev, saying that the verdict “gives opportunities to launch the mechanism of a swap.”
In a sign that the swap could be imminent, an attorney for one of the men told the Interfax news agency that the two Russians would not lodge an appeal against the verdict.
Later Tuesday, Poroshenko tweeted that he had a telephone conversation with Savchenko together with the pilot’s mother and sister, and had urged her to stop a hunger strike that she went on last month.
Savchenko’s lawyer Ilya Novikov told The Associated Press that the pilot has agreed to start taking food.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the call with Savchenko, who is kept in a detention facility in southern Russia, was arranged.
Savchenko, who is a professional pilot, enlisted in a volunteer Ukrainian battalion in summer 2014 to fight the separatist rebels in the Luhansk region. She was captured by the rebels and re-surfaced in Russian custody on the other side of the border. Moscow claimed Savchenko escaped from the separatists and was caught in Russia, while the Ukrainian claims she was abducted and smuggled into Russia.
Poroshenko would not say when he expected Savchenko to be returned but added that he told Putin that he was ready to send a presidential jet to Russia to take her home.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier Tuesday that the two presidents talked about Savchenko as well as the two Russian officers convicted on Monday of waging a war of aggression in Ukraine.
A Kiev court on Monday sentenced Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev to 14 years in prison after finding them guilty of terrorism and waging war in eastern Ukraine. The two, who were captured last year, acknowledged being Russian officers but the Russian defense ministry claimed they had resigned from active duty.
Peskov would not respond to Poroshenko’s statement when contacted by the Interfax news agency, but only said that Savchenko’s future was discussed during Monday’s call.