Nadiya Savchenko, the former Ukrainian military pilot who became a hero and symbol of the country’s resistance against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has been arrested on charges of plotting an attack on Ukraine’s Parliament. Savchenko was voted into Parliament in absentia after she was shot down by Russia and imprisoned for nearly two years before being released in 2016. But on Thursday, less than two years after her triumphant return home following a prisoner swap, Parliament voted to strip Savchenko of her immunity as a lawmaker over allegations that she planned a “coup” against Ukraine’s government, which she has previously accused of being controlled by corrupt establishment politicians.
Speaking before parliament on Thursday, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko claimed that Savchenko had planned to smuggle weapons from Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in order to stage a “terrorist coup in the interest of Ukraine’s enemies.” As evidence, he presented wiretapped recording in which Savchenko allegedly discussed smuggling weapons and talked about a potential attack on Parliament.
In responding to the accusations, Savchenko was unapologetic, announcing that she knew she was being wiretapped and that she had talked about attacking the government as a “surrealist political provocation” meant to mock what she derided as a corrupt government. She further questioned how lawmakers could cast her, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as pro-Russian, holding up her Hero of Ukraine medal, the highest national title that can be bestowed upon a Ukrainian citizen, as a reminder of what she endured on behalf of her country. She went on to accuse Ukrainian politicians of taking advantage of the ongoing conflict in east Ukraine to line their pockets, declaring that “Ukrainians on both sides want peace.”
“The Ukrainian government is the main evil in Ukraine,” she said before a booing parliament. “The entire people of Ukraine think so.”
Speaking to The Associated Press, Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko suggested that the arrest of Savchenko, who is known in her country as “Lady Dynamite,” was political theater meant to block the popular war-hero from upending the establishment by running for President in Ukraine’s coming presidential election. Appearing at the Women in the World London Forum in 2016, Savchenko had acknowledged conflicts with establishment politicians who she said she had upset by calling them out on corrupt practices, but said that she intended to continue to fight on behalf of the people of Ukraine nonetheless.
“I think I can lead people,” said Savchenko. “If necessary, that’s what I will do.”
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