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Ukrainian pilot Savchenko freed, flown to Kiev

Posted: 7:52 AM, May 25, 2016
Updated: 2016-05-25 08:52:59-04
Ukrainian pilot Savchenko freed, flown to Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko has returned to Kiev after nearly two years of being imprisoned in Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman confirmed that the plane carrying Savchenko from Rostov-on-Don had landed Wednesday at Kiev's Borispol Airport.

Savchenko was swapped for two Russian servicemen imprisoned in Ukraine, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev. Russian state television showed them arriving at a Moscow airport on Wednesday.

Putin was shown on national television on Wednesday meeting two young women described as relatives of the two Russian journalists who were killed in a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine in June 2014. Savchenko was sentenced to 22 years in prison by Russia for the involvement in that attack.

Putin says he made the decision to release Savchenko after the relatives of the killed journalists petitioned him to show mercy to Savchenko.

Savchenko was certain to be greeted by crowds of supporters in Ukraine, where her refusal to bend after nearly two years in Russian custody has made her a national hero. Savchenko was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and sentenced in March to 22 years in prison for her alleged role in the deaths of two Russian journalists in the conflict zone.

The two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured last year. They acknowledged being Russian officers, but the Russian Defense Ministry claimed they had resigned from active duty. They were tried in a Kiev court, which sentenced them to 14 years in prison after finding them guilty of terrorism and waging war in eastern Ukraine.