Two Britons and a Moroccan were sentenced to death by firing squad Thursday by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine for fighting on Ukraine’s side.
The Supreme Court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic found the men guilty of working toward a violent overthrow of power, an offense punishable by death in the republic recognized only by Russia – and only days before the invasion in February. They men were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.
Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saaudun Brahim have a month to appeal.
“The guilty verdict is based on the evidence provided by the prosecution, not counting the defendants’ pleading guilty on all counts,” Judge Alexander Nikulin told reporters.
Prosecutors claimed that the three fighters are “mercenaries” who are not entitled to protections afforded prisoners of war. Aslin and Pinner’s families said the men have lived in Ukraine since 2018 and were “long-serving” members of the Ukrainian military.
Pinner and Aslin surrendered to pro-Russian forces in the southern port of Mariupol in mid-April, while Brahim did so in mid-March in the eastern city of Volnovakha.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the decision a “sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.”
“I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine. They are prisoners of war,” she said in a statement. “My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them.”
Another British fighter captured by the pro-Russian forces, Andrew Hill, is awaiting trial.
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►A resolution urging NATO to quickly admit Finland and Sweden won easy passage in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. Turkey has stalled the applications, saying it objects to the two countries’ stances regarding some Kurdish groups the Turks have labeled terrorists.
►Russians occupying the southeastern city of Melitopol are looking for freezers and industrial refrigerators after the city meat-packing plant, converted into a morgue, filled with Russian bodies. This week the firm Aron-M LLC said it was told its refrigerators would be used “free of charge for the preservation of the bodies of fallen servicemen.”
►Senior members of the European Union’s parliament are urging EU leaders to make Ukraine and neighboring Moldova official candidates for joining the 27-nation bloc. The parliament in recent years had balked at Ukraine’s candidacy, citing rampant corruption.
►President Joe Biden plans to visit European allies Germany and Spain this month as he tries to hold together the coalition opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
More than three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the remnants of war have become a more permanent fixture in the everyday lives of Ukrainian citizens. Photos show curious onlookers stopping to inspect broken down military vehicles. Some even let their dogs, goats and children play atop the abandoned war tanks on public display in the streets of Kyiv and across regions under bombardment. See photos here.
“To see the vehicles that the monsters rode and what’s left of them,” said Olya Ovcharuk, a kindergarten teacher before the invasion. “There’s little doubt here that this is a display of death. That doesn’t stop people from taking selfies or climbing on and in the vehicles, feeling burnt flak jackets.”
– Camille Fine
The true human cost of Russia’s siege of Mariupol was exposed Thursday with the revelation that rescue workers are extracting hundreds of bodies from the rubble of bombed-out buildings across the Ukrainian port city. Fifty to 100 bodies are being found in many buildings, city officials said. Mayor Petro Andryushchenko said on the Telegram app that the bodies are being taken in an “endless caravan of death” to a morgue, landfills and other places.
At least 21,000 Mariupol civilians were killed during the weeks-long Russian siege, Ukrainian authorities have estimated. The Kremlin said it used pinpoint strikes focused on military targets, but multiple cities have been left in ruin by endless bombardments as Russian forces use their long-distance strike advantage to pound Ukraine with relative impunity.
Mariupol, once home to 450,000 people, now houses less than 100,000, authorities say. It is fully occupied by Russian troops.
The war is shaping up to be a battle of attrition as both sides suffer heavy losses. Ukraine military said it has “liquidated” more than 30,000 Russian soldiers since the invasion Feb. 24. Russia has said little about troop losses in recent weeks. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a Facebook post Thursday that every day up to 100 Ukrainian troops are killed and up to 500 end up wounded. That could translate to more than 15,000 Ukrainian troop deaths and 50,000 wounded – and does not take into account thousands of civilian lives lost.
“We proved that we don’t fear the Kremlin, unlike many others. But we as a country can’t afford to bleed, losing our best sons and daughters,” Reznikov wrote.
Olga Oliker, a director from the Crisis Group, an NGO, told The Guardian that “both sides are competing to be the last army standing.”
Moscow’s Chief Rabbi is living in exile after Russian authorities demanded that he publicly support the war in Ukraine. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt flew to Hungary to raise money for refugees in early March and has not returned to Russia, his New York-based daughter-in-law Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt said in a Twitter post. She said her in-laws had been raising funds for refugees in Eastern Europe, then visited her grandfather in a Jerusalem hospital. Pinchas Goldschmidt was re-elected this week in absentia to another seven-year term as Moscow’s chief rabbi.
“Can finally share that my in-laws, Moscow Chief Rabbi @PinchasRabbi & Rebbetzin Dara Goldschmidt, have been put under pressure by authorities to publicly support the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine — and refused,” she tweeted. “They are now in exile from the community they loved, built & raised their children in, over 33 years.”
Contributing:Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press