Nadiya Savchenko: A woman vs a system
Nadiya Savchenko had dreamt of becoming a pilot since her early childhood. She started studying journalism but after one year of studies she decided to quit and let her dreams come true. Savchenko joined the Ukrainian Army where she served as a radio operator with the country’s railway forces. Between 2004 and 2005 she was the only woman in the Ukrainian army serving with Ukrainian troops in Iraq. In 2005, she attended the Air Force University in Kharkiv after she asked then-minister of defence, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, to allow women to attend this university. She served as a navigator of SU-24 attack aircraft and Mi-24 attack helicopter in the 3rd Army Aviation Regiment in Brody, Lviv Oblast.
When the war in eastern Ukraine broke out, Savchenko immediately took a leave from her job and voluntarily joined the Aidar Battalion. Her mother tried to prevent her from this step as “it is not a woman’s thing” but Savchenko only said that she had to do it as a Ukrainian patriot. During the battle in the village of Horlivka in June 2014, she was captured by pro-Russian separatists.
On July 8th 2014 the world learnt that the captured pilot was arrested and incarcerated in the city of Voronezh, Russia. According to the Russian court, she was accused of being responsible for shelling that killed two Russian journalists (Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin) who were reporting from eastern Ukraine at that time. However, the Ukrainian version of those events is that the journalists were at a place where the separatists were stationed and at the time the Ukrainian army shelled this place, Savchenko was already a prisoner of war. What is more, Russia claims that Savchenko voluntarily crossed the Ukrainian-Russian border and that she was not taken to Russia by force.
Savchenko was elected as a member of Ukrainian parliament in the recent elections which took place in October 2014. On October 27th 2014, the day after the elections, a court in Moscow decided to extend her custody until February 13th 2015. On February 10th 2015, the same court decided to keep Savchenko in detention until May 2015.
On December 15th 2014, Savchenko began a hunger strike (she only drinks water). She has been on the hunger strike for over two months and it is now becoming a major risk to her health and life.
“A person who was born free and not a slave in captivity cannot live in prison, especially if he or she is innocent. I have given my word: ‘Until the day I return to Ukraine, or until the last day of my life in Russia!’ and I will not back down,” she wrote in an open letter on January 12th.
But what is Russia’s goal in keeping Savchenko in custody? Could she be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations? The West claims that the sanctions against Russia will be abandoned only after Savchenko is set free. As the international media reported, Savchenko’s release was one of the topics discussed during the recent summit in Minsk. The Russian television channel Dozhd, citing the Interfax news agency, reported that an exchange of POWs based on the “all for all” rule was discussed. However, Savchenko’s lawyer stressed that all of the information on her release is unofficial as he has not seen a list of prisoners who are to be freed. The lawyer emphasised that it is Russia’s responsibility to officially inform him about Savchenko’s release.
The website of the Batkivshchyna party (the Ukrainian political party which Savchenko is associated with) claims that by keeping the Ukrainian pilot in custody, Russia is conducting a form of boycott of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which Savchenko is a member of as Ukraine’s delegate. After the annexation of Crimea, PACE suspended Russia’s right to vote in the assembly.
One may agree or disagree with this; however, there is no doubt that Nadiya Savchenko is a very brave and strong woman who has challenged the system. It is not even about a Russian or western political system, but the general system of interests, influences and games which are being played on the international arena.
Savchenko showed how important an individual life is. As long as the discussions and negotiations are ongoing, Nadiya Savchenko has been slowly dying: dying at her own request and dying for ideals which are above her. Hopefully she will not die, but her lawyers fear that she will not make it for the next trial which is scheduled for May 13th 2015.
Maryana Prokop is a Ukrainian-born PhD student at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland, specialising in the Ukrainian political system.