Savchenko Announces Hunger Strike As Kyiv Court Decides Whether To Jail Her

Savchenko Announces Hunger Strike As Kyiv Court Decides Whether To Jail Her

The FINANCIAL -- Ukrainian lawmaker Nadia Savchenko announced a hunger strike as a court in Kyiv was deciding whether she will be placed in pretrial custody after the county's chief prosecutor accused her of plotting terrorist attacks.

Defiant at a hearing in Shevchenko District Court on March 23, Savchenko said she was innocent and that her detainment in parliament was "illegal."

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) officers detained Savchenko in parliament on March 22, after fellow lawmakers voted to strip her of immunity from prosecution and authorize her arrest, according to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko has accused Savchenko and alleged accomplice Volodymyr Ruban of plotting to overthrow the government, carry out a "large-scale terrorist attack" in central Kyiv, and kill senior officials.

Ruban was detained earlier in March while crossing into government-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, allegedly with large amounts of weapons and ammunition hidden in a shipment of furniture.

Savchenko said at the hearing on March 23 that "the weapons were being transported from the enemy" -- a reference to Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of two eastern provinces -- in order "to [forensically] study them."

Prosecutor Oleksandr Bannyk asked the court to jail Savchenko for a two-month pretrial detention period, adding that she could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.

Savchenko's detention marked a dramatic new turn for the former military aviator, who for a time was widely seen in Ukraine as a hero of the war that has killed more than 10,300 people since Russia fomented unrest and backed separatists after pro-European protests drove Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014.

Savchenko says she was abducted in the combat zone later that year and taken to Russia. She spent two years in prison there -- stretches of which she spent on hunger strikes -- before being released and returned to Ukraine as part of a prisoner swap in May 2016.

Elected to parliament on an opposition party ticket while still held in Russia, Savchenko became a vehement critic of President Petro Poroshenko's government after her return. She swiftly drew fire from several political camps, facing criticism for holding talks with the Russia-backed separatists without government consent and for comments nationalists said indicated she advocated accepting Moscow's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

With reporting by Merhat Sharipzhan