Russia sets trial date for jailed Ukrainian pilot

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Moscow (AFP) - Russia on Tuesday announced that the trial of Ukranian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, whose politically charged case has become emblematic of bitter tensions between Kiev and Moscow, will begin later this month.

The trial of the 34-year-old helicopter navigator and Ukrainian lawmaker, who faces up to 25 years in prison for her alleged involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists, will begin on July 30 in the southern Russian city of Donetsk, a local court said.

The preliminary hearing on that day will be held behind closed doors.

Savchenko and her lawyers have protested Russian authorities' decision to have her stand trial in Donetsk, which is located not far from the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Her defence team said the choice of Donetsk was aimed at moving the trial out of the public eye, with lawyer Mark Feigin calling it "the worst of all possible scenarios."

Feigin wrote on Twitter last week that he would need permission from Russia's FSB security service to take part in the trial because Donetsk is a border town in proximity to a conflict zone.

Savchenko, who was moved to the southern Russia city of Rostov-on-Don last week, protested her transfer from Moscow and petitioned UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

Savchenko, who is considered a symbol of resistance against what most Ukrainians consider a separatist insurgency fuelled by Russia, was elected to Ukraine's parliament in absentia last October.

Russia has accused Savchenko of abetting the deaths of Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who were killed by mortar fire in eastern Ukraine last summer. Savchenko has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Savchenko was first accused of being an accomplice, but earlier this month Russian investigators said she was now considered a "co-executor of the premeditated murder."

The Ukrainian government claims Savchenko was captured by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and taken to Russia against her will last June.

She refused food for more than 80 days to protest her detention but broke off her hunger strike in March because of severe health problems.

Western leaders have repeatedly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Savchenko, who has received the Hero of Ukraine award, the ex-Soviet country's highest honour.

On Tuesday, another prominent Ukrainian, film director Oleg Sentsov, went on trial in Rostov-on-Don on terror charges in a case decried by Kiev, rights groups and prominent film directors.

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