Mercenaries in Ukraine: London seeks to free the two Britons sentenced to death

Mercenaries in Ukraine: London seeks to free the two Britons sentenced to death

The Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and the Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, taken prisoner in Ukraine where they were fighting for Kyiv, were sentenced to death on Thursday for mercenary action by the justice of the separatist authorities in Donetsk.

“The prime minister is appalled by the sentencing of these men,” his spokesman told reporters, insisting that London “supports Ukraine in its efforts to free them.”

“They were serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and are prisoners of war,” not mercenaries, he added, denying the mercenary charge.

The head of British diplomacy Liz Truss – who on Thursday called the verdict a “simulacrum of judgment without legitimacy” – spoke Friday morning with her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kouleba.

She said on Twitter that she discussed with him “efforts to secure the release of POWs held by pro-Russians. The judgment against them is a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention”.

Berlin also deemed the death sentence for these foreign fighters “shocking” on Friday.

Aiden Aslin’s family explained at the end of April that he had moved to Ukraine in 2018, where he had met his partner and settled in Mykolaiv (southeast). He had decided to join the Ukrainian Marines and served in that unit for nearly four years.

Shaun Pinner’s family had indicated that he was “neither a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serves in the Ukrainian army by Ukrainian legislation”. He also moved to Ukraine in 2018 and married a Ukrainian.

Asked by the BBC about the possible way of freeing them, the Ukrainian ambassador in London, Vadym Prystaïko, specified that “it will be an exchange”: “The question is what will be the price because the Russians speak of an exchange with Ukrainian deputies” who worked for the benefit of Russia.

He recalled that these British fighters had “contracts with the (Ukrainian) armed forces, they lived in Ukraine before”. “They are prisoners of war and should be treated as such, the same way we treat Russians in captivity,” he said.

MP and former Conservative minister Robert Jenrick, who represents Mr. Aslin’s constituency, has called on the Foreign Office to summon the Russian ambassador to the UK. He claimed to have received guarantees from the Ukrainian authorities that MM. Aslin and Pinner would be released on a priority basis with a view to an exchange of prisoners between Kyiv and Moscow.

On Friday, the UN expressed its “concern” after the death sentences of prisoners of war by pro-Russian rebels.

“According to the Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine, all these men were part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. If so, they should not be considered mercenaries,” said a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani.

Four foreign volunteer soldiers, including a Frenchman, were killed fighting the Russian invasion in Ukraine, announced Lidu, the official body for foreign volunteer fighters.

Russia for its part claimed this week to have killed “hundreds” of foreign fighters in Ukraine since the start of its offensive on February 24, managing according to it to stem the flow of newcomers.