Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday that jailed pilot Nadiya Savchenko had agreed to end her hunger strike in a Russian jail, as Kiev tries to hammer out a prisoner swap deal with Moscow.
Poroshenko spoke by phone with Savchenko who was jailed by a Russian court last month on murder charges.
The Ukrainian leader asked her to end her protest which has seen her refuse all food and liquid since April 6.
Her lawyers did at one point say she could be put on an intravenous drip.
“Nadiya Savchenko agreed to temporarily halt her hunger strike,” Poroshenko’s office said in a statement, following the president’s phone call to the imprisoned pilot.
It was unclear if Savchenko will begin eating as well as drinking again.
A deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Iryna Gerashchenko, who also spoke to Savchenko, told AFP that “she had promised to end a dry hunger strike”.
Refusing both food and water is called a “dry hunger strike” in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine and was a method of last resort for some Soviet dissidents.
Savchenko has fasted several times in the past.
The phone call between Poroshenko and Savchenko came after the pro-Western leader insisted earlier yesterday that he had made progress towards agreeing a deal with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to swap the military helicopter navigator for two alleged Russian soldiers.
“On the basis of preliminary developments I think that we managed to agree a specific formula for freeing Nadiya,” Poroshenko told journalists following a phone call with Putin late on Monday.
Savchenko was sentenced to 22 years in jail by a Russian court in March after being convicted of the murder of two Russian journalists who died covering the pro-Moscow rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
A long-mooted exchange of Savchenko for the Russian prisoners appeared closer at hand after a court in Kiev on Monday convicted the two Russians of fighting alongside the rebels who took up arms against Ukraine’s Western-backed government in 2014.
Sergeant Aleksander Aleksandrov and captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev received 14-year jail sentences.
“The court yesterday announced its decision on the Russian military intelligence officers – Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov – and this verdict opens up specific possibilities to start the process of an exchange,” Poroshenko said. “But I would very much ask you to avoid any speculation on this subject, about the time it will take for any return and any further steps.”
Ukraine insists that the two Russian fighters were serving members of an elite Russian military intelligence unit when they were captured in May last year, but Moscow says they had quit the army before crossing the border.
Savchenko – who has become a national hero at home – was convicted over her alleged involvement in the deaths of two Russian state television reporters killed in a mortar strike in June 2014.
Russia claimed she was the “spotter” who helped Ukrainian forces target the reporters.
The Kremlin confirmed yesterday that Putin and Poroshenko had discussed the fates of Savchenko and the two Russians during their phone call but gave no hint that a deal was on the cards.
The cases of the Ukrainian pilot and the alleged Russian soldiers have deepened the rift between Kiev and Moscow, which are already locked in a bitter feud over the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and alleged responsibility for the war in east Ukraine that has left nearly 9,200 people dead.
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