This will be ongoing coverage of the Nadezhda Savchenko criminal case in Russian court.
Part I: The case opens in court today
This is the source I am using today, and here is a summary of the chronology up to now (when you read it in Russian, you have to read from the bottom upwards, which is often how they do these chronologies. I prefer to re-order from the top down.) The date is today, 29 September, all times given are Moscow time, and I prefer to use 24-hour time. I also write in the present tense.
As each day goes on, I will just edit post and add chronology, without necessarily indicating that I have updated.
9:20 – Savchenko is brought in a prisoner-transport van to the Russian city of Donetsk (not to be confused with Ukrainian Donetsk, in the Donbass). Russian Donetsk is a town in the Rostov oblast, not far from the Ukrainian border. Savchenko has been living in an isolation prison 30 kilometers away, in the town called Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, which was founded by Cossack settlers in the year 1686. This being a high-profile case, Savchenko is accompanied by increased security. The courtroom area is like a war zone, with military, police, special forces, SWAT teams, men in masks, the whole 9 yards.
10:55 – Case opens. Savchenko is accused of being complicit in the murder of two Russian citizens; alleged murder taking place in July 2014. A secondary charge is one of illegally crossing the border from Ukraine to Russia.
11:00 – Court is now in session. Savchenko’s mother is present in the gallery, wearing an embroidered t-shirt, with a portrait of her daughter. Diplomatic consuls are also present.
11:07 – Savchenko is brought out in her glass cage, dubbed the “aquarium”. [yalensis: caging the prisoners in the court is common to both Russian and Ukrainian legal practice]. Savchenko smiles at her mother and whispers something in Ukrainian.
11:09 – The judges enter the hall.
11:15 – Savchenko’s attorney Ilya Novikov offers a preliminary motion to have his client interviewed via polygraph, with the assistance of a certified polygraph specialist. According to Novikov, this is Savchenko’s wish. Savchenko herself makes a supporting statement: “I wish to be questioned under lie detector. Previously, the investigators questioned me under polygraph, but the results were concealed from the Court. Are the investigators worried, that their case will fall apart if this polygraph session is published to the Court?”
The Prosecution objects to the use of the polygraph.
The judges, after conferring briefly among themselves, uphold the objection.
11:20 – Savchenko delivers her statement in Ukrainian. She has a state-appointed Ukrainian to Russian translator standing next to the “aquarium”.
11:25 – Another series of Defense motions. Some of these motions are not timely – they should be offered later in the trial.
11:40 – Proceeds to the questioning of Nadezhda Savchenko. She tells the court that she will attempt to answer in Russian, but if she doesn’t remember a word, she will ask the translator for assistance. Nobody objects to this approach.
11:47 – Savchenko narrates her story: About her participation in the Maidan revolution. The source notes that her Russian is very good. Savchenko tells about keeping guard on the Maidan, helping the wounded. She claims that she “tried to stop the bloodshed”. When asked about aggressive actions towards the Berkut riot police, Savchenko denied harming anyone: “There was no aggression on our part. We only had issues with those who were covering themselves with human shields [?].”
11:55 – Savchenko narrates: “Crimea was taken away from us. I know exactly what the Russian troops did there. If there had been no Crimea, there would be no war in Donbass.”
Novikov (=Nadezhda’s attorney): “You are accused of acting with hatred towards the civilian population [of the Donbass]?”
“This is all a lie,” Savchenko responds. “People are listening to media propaganda. And by the way, this civilian population – they are Ukrainians, people are mistaken when they accuse me of this. I just feel sorry for them (=the Donbass residents). I do not relate to them aggressively. I will prove my innocence.”
Novikov: “Tell us how you came to be in Luhansk?”
Savchenko: “After the annexation of Crimea. Things were going very badly in the army. I consider it a (state) crime, that, just as the war is beginning, you, a soldier who gave your oath, are put on leave. Therefore, while on leave, I decided voluntarily to go there, where I had to go, there where my people are.” Savchenko goes on to relate, how she joined the military battalion Aidar. “They didn’t have enough people. They were glad to have me help them with the training.”
12:10 – Novikov guides his client through the saga of her transfer from an aerial to a ground-based unit. The transition was not easy for her. Her goal was to get the job of Deputy Political Commissar (замполит). This is one of the roles which the army allows women to assume.
When asked why she did not reveal (in her interrogations upon capture) that she knows Sergei Melnichuk (the Commander of “Aidar”), Savchenko responds that she was holding this back, as a military secret.
12:20 – Savchenko relates, that until 17 June (2014), she participated in the operation to liberate the town of Shchastie. By 18 June, she was ready to go home. Her sister Vera had also arrived at the front, to see what was going on.
[yalensis: This timeline is important to the case]:
On the evening of June 16 Savchenko says she was in the military base near the town of Shchastie. On the 17th, according to her, she was in constant communication with her commanding officer, Melnichuk. This was precisely the time frame during which she is accused of spotting artillery fire on civilians.
And then, during this time, she was ambushed and captured by the other side.
12:30 – “I thought I could negotiate with these guys. One of them started to take away my automatic rifle. He patted me on the shoulder. I am used to trusting people. Only then, after I had been disarmed, they put handcuffs on me, threw a bag over my head, they poked around in my sister’s car, removed everything from there. Among the things they took – rations, mobile phones, documents, my rucksack with my things and the keys to my apartment.” When asked her attitude towards these soldiers from LPR (=Luhansk Peoples Republic), Nadia replies, “They are the opponent, but not the enemy. The enemy – is a different country. These people are simply deluded.”
12:40 – Savchenko continues with her story: She was taken to some military base and interrogated in handcuffs. A group of Russian TV journalists and photographers arrived at the military base. They told her that two Russian journalists had been killed. “They started to take photos of me, ask me questions, like, why did I come into Russia to fight, etc. This was the first time I had heard about the Russian journalists who had been killed.”
12:50 – When asked how they treated her in those first days of captivity, Savchenko responds that it was okay, and that they fed her the same food that they ate.
12:55 – Savchenko recalls, that they put her in a Zhiguli car. She was in handcuffs, accompanied by two Separatists wearing masks and handling kalashnikovs. The one in charge of all this was some man whom they called the “LPR Chairman”.
After 40 minutes [of driving in the Zhiguli], they took her into some kind of field, and then transferred her to other people driving a Niva. She couldn’t tell who they were, because she was blindfolded. After several hours of driving, she was again transferred, first into a “UAZIK” van, and then into a Gazelle which didn’t have windows. They drove for 3 hours. Where they drove to, she doesn’t know. The men accompanying her did not speak Ukrainian.
13:00 – Court recesses for lunch. Judge says to reconvene at 14:00.
[SESSION CONTINUES AFTER LUNCH BREAK]
14:12 – The judges are upset, because the lawyers were late returning from lunch. “Why were you late?” The lawyers reply: “We were having lunch.” Judges: “Next time be more prompt.”
14:18 – The Defense Case continues, with Savchenko’s testimony. She is asked: “Did you attempt to hide from the men who kidnapped you?” She replies in the negative.
14:26 – Savchenko continues her story: She was brought into the Voronezh investigators office at 2:00 o’clock in the morning. She was questioned without representation, then sent to a hotel. She lived in the hotel room under guard; the staff of the hotel didn’t seem too surprised by the goings on.
14:30 – An investigator from the Special Committee came to visit her in the hotel. They told her she had to be a witness in the “Kolomoisky Case”. “But I never even met Kolomoisky,” she protested. The police would not allow her to call her relatives, or tell anyone where she was. Nor did she have an attorney with her. Just a translator. “Were you advised of your rights?” “No,” she replies.
[yalensis: Sounds like they are going for the Miranda Defense.]
14:36 – Novaya Gazeta provides a video showing Savchenko’s detention near the town of Metallist, in Luhansk Province.
14:37 – Savchenko narrates, how the police forced to her to take off her uniform and don new attire. When she took off her uniform, they found Russian rubles in the pockets. “This surprised me,” she admits. Savchenko was then attended to by medical personnel, after a medical check she was placed in the Isolation Unit, and assigned a Public Defender.
14:42 – Savchenko testifies, that the police warned her: “If you don’t cooperate with us, you can expect an eternity behind bars.” Nonetheless, she refused to cooperate, and next thing she knew, they had declared her to be a suspect in the murder of the 2 journalists. A whole month went by, that she was not allowed to see the Ukrainian consul. They kept saying, “Later, later…” They did not allow her to phone her relatives.
14:50 – Nadezhda Savchenko once again denies her guilt. “I am a soldier. I am an officer. I did not take part in the artillery spotting or the shelling [which killed the journalists]. I did not see this blokpost. I did not see any ‘heights’ from which I supposedly spotted/corrected the artillery fire. I saw only an ambush. Later I was told that the Russian journalists were shot by friendly fire.” Savchenko also denies that she crossed the border illegally, and says that she has never been in Russia before her captivity.
14:55 – We now proceed to the cross-examination by the Prosecution. The Prosecution asks her: “Did you fight in Iraq, and did you kill people there?” “Yes, but only those who tried to kill me first,” she replies. Whereabouts in Iraq, what unit, etc.? “I didn’t particularly memorize (these facts) at the time, in order to be able to answer your questions now. The Prosecution asks her, which specific questions were asked of her by the LifeNews correspondents who came to interview her, after she had been captured? “Why, the same ones that you are asking now,” an agitated Savchenko replies. “For example, ‘Who did you kill?’ and ‘What is this war for?’ and ‘What do you plan to do if you are released?’ ”
15:02 – The Prosecution asks Savchenko to define her terms, “opponent” (“protivnik“) vs. enemy (“vrag“).
“The Separatists are what I call my opponents.”
“And your enemies?”
“Foreigners, who are soldiers who came onto my land and are killing my people. And mercenaries – well, they are neither enemies nor friends to me, they just exist. They kill, and I kill.”
15:10 – The Prosecution returns to the issue of the military bases and units, where Savchenko served. “That’s a military secret,” Savchenko replies, and refuses to give the names of any Ukrainian soldiers. But she makes sure to add, ominously, that she remembers “down to the last face” those who captured her and made her life miserable.
15:14 – The Ukrainian translator, whose services have not been used even once today, gets tired of standing and slumps into a seat. [yalensis: Another peculiarity of Russian courtrooms: People are often required to stand for hours.] Nonetheless, he is not free to live, he must remain at Savchenko’s side, by law.
15:25 – The Prosecution returns to the theme of the Hotel “Evro”, where Savchenko spent the first few days of her captivity.
“How did they take you in? Did you have to check in at the front desk?”
“The men (in masks) accompanied me.”
“Did the people at the reception desk not inquire, why you were accompanied by men in masks carrying kalashnikovs?”
“No, they didn’t ask. Maybe I should have asked them, why they are bringing me here in handcuffs?” Savchenko retorts ironically.
“No more questions,” says the Prosecutor.
15:30 – The trial continues with the video-conferencing testimony from Voronezh, of victims.
15:42 – The first witness, Dmitrieva, is an elderly lady. She lives in the town of Metallist, her house is right next to the road that connects Shchastie-Luhansk. “My flat was bombed out,” Dmitrieva testifies: Some shells fell into the building and exploded.
15:55 – Dmitrieva and the other residents fled from the building and took off on foot along the Shchastie-Luhansk road. It was around noontime. They soon approached a police post, where a (Separatist) militiaman checked their papers. “He told us: ‘Go faster! Faster’. The shells were landing all over the place. And at that very moment, he was hit by a shell. We were pushed back, as if by a wave. We all fell to the ground.” At that moment a cameraman from one of the TV stations suddenly showed up. “He told us he was a cameraman, such-and-such channel, and he joined up with us.” They all walked together to a nearby cafe. Another explosion shook the place.
16:04 – Defense Attorney Ilya Novikov finds contradictions between Dmitrieva’s eye-witness testimony and her previous testimony (in the preliminary hearing). He requests permission to read out the written version of her previous testimony. “At the time she (=Dmitrieva) gave out her political opinions as to what was happening in Ukraine, for example, that nationalists had seized power, etc.), and yet in court she denies that she said that.”
16:09 – With the judges’ permission, Novikov reads out Dmitrieva’s earlier testimony (from the Preliminary Hearing). She had told the investigator, that the local population of Luhlansk Oblast were being oppressed by the Maidan activists. That the Kiev government had launched military operations on the territory of Luhansk Oblast, had carried out raids, bombardments and shellings; and that this had led to numerous casualties among the local (civilian) population. This is how her house had been destroyed. “I know for a fact that a Ukrainian tank shot up our (apartment building). Many people died. But personally I didn’t see this (with my own eyes). My neighbors told me what happened.”
16:18 – In her earlier testimony, Dmitrieva repeats pretty much the same as she is now saying in court, but with more detail. How she and her relatives and neighbors broke out of the cellar (where they had been hiding from the bombs), how they walked along the Shchastie-Luhansk Road, how they approached the police checkpoint, how the explosion wounded the (Separatist) militiaman; how there were an additional two or three explosions after that; how a man run up to them, wearing a vest and carrying a TV camera: a cameraman from some Russian TV channel. As they were hurrying along, the cameraman kept filming, but also helped them walk. Dmitrieva herself did not suffer any injuries during this ordeal.
16:20 – Dmitrieva is asked to clarify: If the vest worn by the man was an armoured vest. She replies that it was not armoured, it just said “Press” on it.
16:33 – Savchenko’s attorney Mark Feygin motions the Court to exclude Dmitrieva from the list of “victims”. His basis: She is a citizen of Ukraine, not of Russia. Earlier (in the process) the Defense had offered a similar motion – to exclude all Ukrainian citizens, on a technicality, but the motion had been turned down.
16:40 – Similarly, the Judges turn down the current motion.
16:45 – Begins the testimony of the second “victim” – Ella Buryka. She lives in the same apartment building as Dmitrieva.
16:53 – Buryka narrates a story similar to Dmitrieva’s. The only difference: She saw (with her own eyes) the Ukrainian tank. Buryka also is not a citizen of the Russian Federation.
17:05 – Buryka narrates, how the investigator interviewed her back in June of 2014. Feigin catches her on this error. Buryka corrects herself, that her questioning took place “in February or April, maybe the end of March, in 2015.” She doesn’t remember the name of the investigator who questioned her. Feigin harangues the witness, suggesting that somebody is prompting her testimony. She denies that.
17:13 – Feigin then proceeds to grandstand, he demands that one portion of the case be dismissed (i.e., the charge that Savchenko made an attempt on the life of Ella Buryka). Feigin’s logic is as follows: At the time of the alleged attempt upon her life (of which Savchenko is accused of being complicit), Buryka did not turn to the proper criminal organs of her own country (Ukraine) in order to lodge a complaint. Defense Attorney Polozov then jumps up to add in his argument: That the un-named investigator simply copied Dmitrieva’s testimony and used it as the template for Buryka’s.
17:25 – Reporter comments that everybody in the courtroom is getting tired, including Savchenko. Nonetheless, she remains standing most of the time and sometimes even laughs. For example, she laughs when Buryka says something silly (to the effect that it is not necessary to ask her so many questions, since she knows a lot, because she watches television).
17:38 – Defense attorneys have naturally found contradictions in Buryka’s testimony. Once again they ask permission to read out her prior testimony. Savchenko speaks out herself to support the motion: “Investigator Marchenko also tried to prompt me in my own testimony,” she claims, “by proposing certain variants of answers to certain questions.”
The Judge asks Buryka: “Do you want us to read out the testimony you gave at the preliminary hearing?”
Buryka: “No, why should they?”
Savchenko, along with the public, laughs at the reply.
The Presiding Judge bangs his gavel and demands order: “This is a courtroom, not a theater.” In the end, he declines the motion to read out Buryka’s prior testimony.
17:48 – Buryka has finished testifying. The panel of Judges continue the case until tomorrow. At that time also they will rule on the Defense motion to dismiss the charge of attempt on Buryka’s life.
[Court session will resume tomorrow, 30 October, 11:00 AM Moscow time]
[yalensis note: I have to work late tomorrow, so I will translate whatever I can in the early morning before I go to work – for me this is EST time – but may have to leave Wednesday’s afternoon session to translate until Thursday morning. So please bear with me, Dear Readers.]