Two British citizens and a Moroccan were sentenced to death Thursday by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine for fighting on Ukraine’s side.
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic found the three men guilty of working toward a violent overthrow of power, an offence punishable by death in the unrecognized republic. They were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the three — Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saaudun Brahim — are set to face a firing squad. They have a month to appeal.
The separatists had claimed that the three fighters are “mercenaries” not entitled to the usual protections afforded prisoners of war.
In response, Aslin and Pinner’s families said that the men, who are both said to have lived in Ukraine since 2018, were “long-serving” members of the Ukrainian military.
Britain condemns ‘sham judgment’
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the verdict as “a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.”
I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine.<br><br>They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.<br><br>My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them.
The three men fought alongside Ukrainian troops. Pinner and Aslin surrendered to pro-Russian forces in the southern port of Mariupol in mid-April, while Brahim did so in mid-March in the eastern city of Volnovakha.
The Russian military has argued that foreign mercenaries fighting on Ukraine’s side are not combatants and should expect a long prison term, at best, if captured. Another British fighter captured by the pro-Russian forces, Andrew Hill, is awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to pound the eastern city of Severodonetsk in fierce, street-by-street combat that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said could determine the fate of the Donbas, the country’s industrial heartland of coal mines and factories.
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for years in the Donbas and held swaths of territory before the invasion.
“Fierce battles continue in the city itself, street battles are taking place with varied success in city blocks,” Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province. “The army of Ukraine is fighting for every street and house.”
Severodonetsk is part of the very last pocket of Luhansk that the Russians have yet to seize.
Ukraine losing dozens per day: defence minister
Zelensky called the painstaking fight for the city the “epicentre” of the battle for the larger Donbas, which is comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
“In many ways, it is there that the fate of our Donbas is being decided,” Zelensky said Wednesday in his nightly video address, which was recorded in the street outside his office in Kyiv.
Ukraine’s top military official said the situation on the front line is “very difficult” and calls for “very quick” weapon supplies.
Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a Facebook post that up to 100 Ukrainian troops are being killed every day. “We as a country can’t afford to bleed, losing our best sons and daughters,” he said.
Haidai said Russian forces are also targeting Lysychansk, the city that neighbours Severodonetsk, with “day and night shelling,” and trying to storm a key road leading from Lysychansk to the southwest.
Meanwhile, Russia claimed it struck a training facility west of the capital, far from the front lines. Russia’s Defence Ministry said it used air-launched missiles against a Ukrainian military base in the Zhytomyr region where it alleged mercenaries were being trained.
There was no immediate response from Ukrainian authorities to the Russian claims.