KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Latest on Ukrainian pilot Nadezda Savchenko (all times local):
Germany’s foreign minister says he’s relieved about the release of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko.
Savchenko, who was being held in Russia on a 22-year prison sentence, was swapped Wednesday for two Russian servicemen who had been imprisoned in Ukraine, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev.
Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says he hopes the exchange of prisoners will contribute to “building confidence between Ukraine and Russia” and spur efforts to implement the Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists are fighting the Ukrainian government.
Steinmeier added he wished “Ms. Savchenko a speedy health improvement.”
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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says in televised comments that he has decided to pardon Ukrainian pilot Nadezda Savchenko, who has become the national rallying cause in Ukraine.
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.
Russia on Wednesday released Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko as part of a swap for two Russian servicemen jailed in Ukraine, an official in the Ukrainian presidential administration said.
Savchenko was being flown to Kiev aboard Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s plane, according to the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Kremlin-funded television station RT, citing unidentified sources, reported that the two Russians also were released and were being flown to Moscow.
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.
Lynn Berry and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed reporting.