Kyiv, Ukraine – Parliamentary elections passed over the quiet weekend with little fanfare. Throughout Kyiv, there was one election poster featuring a blue-eyed woman with short-cropped black hair.
She did not get to vote in these past elections. However, though the count is not yet over, it is more than certain that she has been elected to the Ukrainian Parliament.
her name is Nadiya Savchenko, 33. She is the real-life, Ukrainian incarnation of GI Jane.
Savchenko was an officer, a first lieutenant, in the Ukrainian Army. She is celebrated as Ukraine’s first female pilot. She is a volunteer in the Aidar Battalion, and has played a significant role in the continued fighting against pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country.
Since July, she has been in a prison cell in Voronezh, Russia after her transfer from pro-Russian separatist hands to Russian secret service. Essentially, she was kidnapped from Luhansk in Ukraine and illegally transferred to Russia and charged with the murder of two Russian journalists who were at a rebel check point.
But this is not the most remarkable thing about the Ukrainian GI Jane.
In late July, a video of her interrogation was released by the pro-Russian self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic”. Supposedly, her interrogator was a Russian journalist, claiming that “if Russia wanted to intervene, they would have cleaned this place up. For now, they are just observing.”
Of course, Nadiya put her interrogator on the spot with her curt, straight forward answers.
“You came here as a volunteer…” said the interrogator, “What were you missing? Adrenaline?”
“I have plenty of adrenaline in my [daily] life,” she responds flatly.
If not for the handcuffs that bind her two large yellow pipes, you would think that this was an ordinary debate between two people. She is steadfast in her beliefs. Even when asked about the number of Ukrainian soldiers and units on the ground, she says, “I would not tell you anyway.”
In her letters to her sister, Vira Savchenko, she recounts some of the events in prison.
“Another time I asked them why they don’t have coffee (at the pre-trial detention center/remand prison). They said that ‘prison is used to tea,’ and then added that ‘Coffee is more of your Western thing, in Russia people like tea.’ So I said: ‘Your whole Russia is a prison.’”
She was later transferred to the Serbski Institute in Moscow for a psychiatric evaluation. This move was met by a petition by several Ukrainian psychiatrists declaring that “We also know about new cases of political abuse of psychiatry in the Russia of today. The authoritarian political regime in Russia is able to use the «psychiatric cover up» also in the case of Nadiya Savchenko.” Additionally, they list the number of victims of the practice of determining people mentally ill at the Serbski Institute – a practice dating back to the USSR – and imply that Russia is utilizing the same technique with Savchenko.
If Russia thought that this woman could be bullied into anything, they have been sorely mistaken. She has condemned this move and said she would not take part in any supposed ‘examination’. She has refused to answer questions or cooperate with the staff.
She wrote to her sister:
“A conflict arose between me and prison guards… in general they are regular people and nice, and don’t treat me badly. But they have this way of reporting that goes like this: ‘Citizen superior, there’s one prisoner in cell #60. On watch for the cell of Savchenko, N.V. reporting.’ And one conscientious first lieutenant (prison guard) is demanding that I say it at check-in time. I always refuse to have this stupidity pass my lips, and explain that he is a citizen of Russia, but I am a citizen of Ukraine, and not a ‘prisoner,’ but an illegally-kidnapped person… We argue about this every morning, and they are already promising to put me in the hole for this.”
On 27 October, the Besmanny court in Moscow met in secret, and without her presence, to decide whether or not to extend her detention without a proper trial. It’s likely that all future hearing on Nadiya’s case will be held in secret as Russia does not want to be accountable for the decisions they came to – because a great injustice is occurring here.
It is undeniable that Savchenko’s detention is illegal, her transport from the breakaway region of Luhansk into Russia a kidnapping, and her trial a complete farce. The Ukrainians would call it a “circus”.
This new member of Parliament is nothing short of the modern day, Ukrainian Joan of Arc.
When her interrogator in Luhansk asked about her potential activities if she is ever released, Savchenko flatly states, “They won’t let me out, they will kill me.”