Fears soar for pilot on hunger strike


MOSCOW: Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko agreed to drink chicken broth on Thursday (Friday in Manila) as concerns mount over her health on the 83rd day of a hunger strike in a Russian jail which has seen her lose over 20 kilos (44 pounds), her lawyer said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) that Savchenko “faces permanent damage to her health or death” and called on Moscow to urgently release her.

The 33-year-old Ukrainian military aviator went on hunger strike in December to protest her arrest last year for alleged involvement in an attack that killed two Russian journalists on eastern Ukraine’s frontlines, where she enlisted as a volunteer in one of the battalions fighting pro-Russian rebels.

She had been drip-fed on glucose and vitamins until recently, and her growing weakness saw her accept to drink some broth on Thursday.

“I’m learning to change my tactics. Physically I am feeling pretty crap, but not so bad as to die. For a while I will drink soup, so that if I am to live, I can fly, so that if I die, then I die healthy, and if I fight, I have the strength,” Savchenko said in a statement.

Her lawyer Ilya Novikov told Agence France-Presse that the pilot had however “not stopped her hunger strike. This is absolutely not a return to a normal diet.”

The prison service told Interfax news agency that Savchenko “agreed to carry out the recommendation of doctors about keeping up her health and agreed to take chicken broth. But she has not given up continuing her hunger strike.”

However, in a conflicting statement lawyer Mark Feigin told Kommersant FM radio Savchenko planned to eventually end the hunger strike once her body had become accustomed to food again.

Savchenko has become a symbol of resistance in Ukraine, where she has been elected to parliament. She has been listed as a political prisoner by Russia’s most prominent rights group, Memorial, as well as by Amnesty International.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said on Wednesday he had sent a letter to Russian leader Vladimir Putin asking him to free Savchenko, his latest plea in the case.

However, a Moscow court on the same day rejected the pilot’s latest appeal against her detention.

Savchenko is in a “medium serious state,” her lawyer Novikov said. “Her weight has gone down to 54 kilograms from 75 kilograms at the start of the hunger strike,” he added.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry also raised alarm Thursday about “the significant worsening in the state of her heath” and called for her to be freed and urgently hospitalized in a Ukrainian or European clinic, said spokesman Yevhen Perebiynis.

The pilot said she was abducted by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and smuggled to Moscow, where she is now being detained.

Russia said she crossed the border of her own accord, pretending to be a refugee.



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