Ukrainian pilot and national hero Nadiya Savchenko has been released from Russia, where she has been held for almost two years.
The release was “part of a tightly coordinated prisoner exchange” and Savchenko received a “hero’s welcome back in Kiev,” NPR’s Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit. He adds that she vowed to “continue fighting for other Ukrainians who are prisoners in Russia.”
“I want to thank everyone who wished me well. Thanks to you, I survived,” she told reporters in a defiant speech after landing in Kiev, according to translation provided by Ukraine’s Hromadske TV. “I want to thank those who wished me harm. I survived in spite of you. And I want to thank those, who were indifferent. Thank you for not interfering. Thank you all.”
Savchenko “was exchanged for two Russians who were captured while fighting with separatists in eastern Ukraine,” as Corey reports.
This comes after a Russian court in March found Savchenko guilty of murdering two Russian journalists in 2014 in Ukraine and sentenced her to 22 years in prison.
As the Two-Way has reported, she has maintained her innocence and called the trial a “Russian propaganda stunt.” Savchenko’s defense maintains she couldn’t have killed the two journalists — because “cellphone records prove that she was captured by separatist militia fighters at least an hour before these journalists were killed,” as Corey reported.
As the judge read the guilty verdict, Savchenko loudly burst into song with a patriotic Ukrainian tune.
Displays of defiance like this throughout the trial “turned her into an unrivaled national hero,” The Associated Press reports. “A poster with her picture and a call for her release has adorned the rostrum at the Ukrainian parliament for months.”
During her time in Russian prison, she was elected to Ukraine’s parliament and also “appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,” the wire service adds.
Savchenko’s release was welcomed by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.