The three lives of Ukraine's Nadiya Savchenko

The helicopter pilot thrown into a Russian cell then blinded by the political spotlight, is licking her wounds but still itching for the fight. Helen Fitzwilliam meets a force of nature

The World Today Updated 26 November 2020 Published 9 December 2016 6 minute READ

Helen Fitzwilliam

Journalist and filmmaker

In the summer of 2014 fighters from rebel-held Donbass in eastern Ukraine spotted a figure in uniform getting out of a Ford Fiesta on the front line. As they moved in to capture the soldier they found a young woman – and not just any woman. It was Lieutenant Nadiya Savchenko, a helicopter pilot of some renown as Ukraine’s own GI Jane. She identified herself as ‘Bullet’.

The rebels’ prize was smuggled across the border into Russia and accused of directing artillery fire which killed two Russian journalists. After almost two years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement and including several hunger strikes that nearly killed her, she was convicted by a Russian court of murder, and sentenced to 22 years in jail. In May this year, Vladimir Putin allowed her to go home in exchange for two captured Russian military intelligence operatives.

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