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Days From Death: Jailed Ukrainian Pilot Nadia Savchenko Is Still on Hunger Strike, Says Kremlin

The 33-year-old has been imprisoned in Moscow since July 2014 for her alleged involvement in a mortar attack that killed two Russian reporters.

by Liz Fields
Feb 27 2015, 8:25pm

Photo via Getty

A Ukrainian helicopter pilot who has been jailed for months in Russia on murder charges is now on the verge of death after a weeks-long hunger strike has essentially shut down her organs and left her with days to live, Kremlin officials said Friday.

Nadia Savchenko, who is also a member of Ukraine's parliament, has been on hunger strike since December 13. She has refused glucose drips for the last two weeks to protest what she maintains was her illegal kidnapping by pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine's Donbass region in June 2014. She was transferred to Russia a month later where she has remained imprisoned.

Russia has charged the 33-year-old with alleged involvement in a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine that killed two Russian journalists. Prosecutors later added charges of illegal border crossing in January. A Moscow court ruled Savchenko would be held in pre-trial detention until May 13, and an appeals court this week upheld the ruling.

Savchenko, who denies the charges against her, is currently residing in the hospital ward at Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina detention center, having been transferred there in late January because of her "abrupt weight loss," Radio Free Europe Liberty reported medical personnel said.

A lawyer for Savchenko told AFP on Friday his client now weighs a little over 120 pounds and that, "She believes she can last for another two weeks."

But Russian officials don't believe the pilot will survive that long.

"Nadezhda Savchenko can die within days," the Kremlin's rights council wrote in an open letter Friday, using a Russian version of the pilot's name. "Over the past days her health sharply deteriorated. She's now experiencing serious problems with her internal organs."

The pilot's case has been closely watched internationally. Some rights monitors and Savchenko's defense team have declared her a prisoner of war and called for her release on humanitarian grounds.

Earlier this month, 14 European Union ministers urged Russia to release the "illegally abducted Ukrainian pilot," while the US State Department proclaimed Savchenko a "hostage to Russian authorities" and said her life "hangs in the balance."

In Ukraine, the aviator — whose name means "hope" — has become a symbol of defiance against Moscow's mounting offensive in the country, where a fierce battle between Kiev's military and pro-Russia separatists has according to the UN killed nearly 5,800 people since April and forced thousands more to flee their homes in the east.

Related: In Photos: A Year of Conflict in Ukraine

In October, while she was in Russian detention, Savchenko was voted, in absentia, to Ukraine's parliament as a member of the Batkivshchyna party. In November while in captivity she resigned from the military, and has been appointed to Ukraine's delegation to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. But even her new parliamentary status has not granted her immunity from imprisonment.

This month, parties in the Ukraine conflict signed a renewed ceasefire agreement, which began on February 12, despite ongoing fighting and shelling in the country's east. Both Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists began the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line Friday as part of the agreement.

The exchange of prisoners has also been negotiated as part of the deal, but Russia has said Savchenko's release has not been considered or negotiated as part of the terms of the truce.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields