Kyiv Post | 20Mar2016 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Free Savchenko Now

The phenomenal Nadiya Savchenko will be sentenced by Russia’s kangaroo court on March 21, 2016. She is expected to receive the maximum sentence of 23 years of hard labor.

The Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine, of which I am a member, has appealed to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make a last-ditch effort to free the parliamentarian who has been subjected to a show trial in the best of Soviet-Russia tradition. She is accused of murder: Circumstantial evidence categorically rebukes this. President Vladimir Putin is determined to break her as she is a relentless critic of his invasion of Ukraine.

For nearly two years Russia’s president has played a sadistic cat and mouse game with her because she will not yield to his will; confess to a false accusation.

Instead, she is a beacon of strength and a testament to the indomitable spirit of Ukraine determined to shed Russia’s yoke. The Economist calls her a Joan of Arc. (It is imperative that Nadiya not become a victim of Putin’s medieval despotism.)

Ukrainians call her "nasha kochana Nadijka", our beloved Hope. To them she is the national symbol of resistance to Russia’s “gift” to Ukraine; the Soviet-like mentality -- might is right, corruption, and aggression -- which has kept Ukraine from becoming a great European power it deserves to be. To the world she is the beautiful and courageous no-sayer to the ugly bullying, terror and deceit of President Putin’s Russia.

Nadiya is a principled, feisty and unrelenting warrior for her freedom as well as that of Ukraine and a test to the democratic world’s commitments to its principles. The perverted judicial proceedings she endures are nothing less than a Kafka-like nightmare rather than a trial to determine the truth. Her hunger strike is a stand against the humiliation and injustice of Russia’s rule of law. She is determined to die rather than live in Russia’s captivity as a result of this phony trail.

The other day, when asked about her physical condition, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov quipped that “her health is not of concern.” However, doctors arriving from Ukraine to examine her first hand were not allowed to see her. Russia’s nastiness has no bounds.

Democratic nations have agreed long ago that her situation is politically motivated. They have called on Russia to free her. Last week US President Barack Obama spoke on the telephone with his Russian counterpart stressing that her freedom is part of "the Minsk commitment to release all unlawfully detained persons."

Yet Russia’s boss ha not yielded: Savchenko’s trial must not be politicized, President Putin has retorted.

Time is running out. In the letter, the group asks Trudeau to add his voice to this dreadful matter: telephone Putin and ask him to release Savchenko.

He should release her, the letter warns, for “his own sake as much as for hers. Putin is keen to improve relations with Canada, and globally, after the terror he’s sowing in Ukraine and Syria.” He also wants economic sanctions lifted but the EU and others are keeping them in place until Russia meets the Minsk agreements. Therefore, to remove them or prevent them from increasing, as some are threatening to do, he must show at least a little good will. Releasing Nadiya could be a start.

Canada has a global reputation for promoting human rights. In the last two years while Ukraine was set on fire by Russia’s terror, the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper lived up to this ideal. The Liberal government of Trudeau is holding firm. It would be a feather in Canada’s hat were he able to convince Putin to do the right thing and release Nadiya, a fellow parliamentarian and political prisoner fighting for justice and her life.

Canada stood firm and fought hard for the freedom of another political prisoner and fellow parliamentarian; Myanmar’s de facto President Aung San Suu Kyi. Now it’s time for Canada to give its best for Nadiya.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former policy adviser for the Government of Canada writes on Canada-Ukraine relations.