Kiev: Ukrainian pilot and MP Nadiya Savchenko attends a news conference on Tuesday.—Reuters
Kiev: Ukrainian pilot and MP Nadiya Savchenko attends a news conference on Tuesday.—Reuters

KIEV: Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian servicewoman-turned-lawmaker who spent two years in a Russian jail, announced a new hunger strike on Tuesday to speed up the release of other Ukrainian prisoners-of-war, accusing Ukraine’s president of ignoring their plight.

Savchenko’s return from Russia in May via a prisoner swap was a PR coup for President Petro Poroshenko. But her membership of a main opposition party and vocal criticism of key policies threaten to make her a thorn in his side.

She has been campaigning for the release via prisoner swap of the around 25 Ukrainians still held by Russia or pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, but said the Ukrainian authorities were not committed to securing their freedom.

“I suggested concrete actions to the president of Ukraine — we need to start initiating the handover of people,” she said in a news briefing.

“But the children of Petro Oleksiyovych [Poroshenko] aren’t in captivity, while he spits on your children,” she said, addressing the parents of Ukrainian prisoners.

She called on relatives of those still in captivity to protest outside government and presidential buildings in Kiev on Aug 8.

Savchenko, who spent much of her time in Russian jail on hunger strike, said she would hold a new strike until progress is made on the prisoner exchange.

Releasing prisoners-of-war is one of the terms of the 12-point Minsk peace deal, which was brokered between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in February 2015 with the aim of ending a conflict which has killed over 9,400 since April 2014.

Other conditions, including a complete cessation of fighting in Ukraine’s eastern territory and a pull-back of heavy weapons from the front line, have also not yet been fulfilled, raising concerns the ceasefire agreement could collapse.

Poroshenko and other politicians had not done enough to end the fighting, Savchenko said. “Not one chocolate factory has been turned into a bullet factory,” she said, referring to Poroshenko’s confectionery business.

Savchenko, a helicopter navigator, was captured by pro-Russian rebels while volunteering with a ground unit in eastern Ukraine and handed over to Russia on accusations of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists.

Her defiance at Russian authority while in captivity earned her a hero’s welcome when she returned to Ukraine and she has said she could run for president at some stage.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2016

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