In a captive exchange with Kiev, Moscow agrees to release Savchenko, a Ukrainian heroine, for two Russian soldiers( or spooks) it won't admit were serving.”>

It was the most publicized prisoner swap of the two-year-long war in eastern Ukraine. This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned the Ukrainian captive Nadezhda Savchenko and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko pardoned Russian soldiers Evgeny Erofeev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov.

The receptions of the liberate prisoners as they returned to Kiev and Moscow could not have been more different. While crowds of reporters and fans surrounded Savchenko upon her arrival, as if she were a stone superstar, the two Russian soldiers were received and hugged by their spouses alone, right outside the aircraft.

Already a celebrity at home, Nadezhda Savchenko or simply Nadiya, as many called her, was brought back from Russia on the Ukrainian chairwomen airliner. As soon as the aircraft touched the ground, Poroshenko called Savchenko on the phone to congratulate her and invite the famous pilot for a meeting at the presidential offices.

Poroshenko turned Savchenko into the countrys emblem of winning the war against Russia-backed rebels who helped Moscow seize and annex the Crimean peninsula, then started the ongoing war in Donbas, as eastern Ukraine is called.

We will bring back Donbas and bring back Crimea, just as we brought back Nadiya, Poroshenko declared on Wednesday.

Precisely why and how Savchenko became a prisoner in the first place has been a matter of debate. She said that on the on June 17, 2014, the first summertime of the war, rebels make two Ukrainian armored vehicles and a tank and she rushed to see if she could help any of the wounded. The next thing anyone knew, she turned up across the frontier in a Russian province. Russian prosecutors claimed that she crossed voluntarily and got arrested after illegally entering the country. They tried her and convicted her on trumped-up charges of complicity in the death of two Russian journalists.

Savchenkovehemently denied the charges, frequently protested from the defendants enclosure, and insisted that she was ambushed, captured by separatist fighters and then transported across the border against her will.

On Wednesday, Ukraine received Savchenko as a national hero, and she acted like one, turning around in a big crowd of journalists, so every video camera could see her. Savchenko screamed loudly in her powerful, throaty voice, demanding the noisy reporters quiet down and listen.

I want you to feel this right nowI spent almost two years in a single cell !, she shouted into the microphone, growing emotional. I am free now, but I want to ask for forgiveness from all the mothers whose children did not come back from the ATO[ Ukraines anti-terrorist operation] while I am still alive, and all mothers whose children are still in prison, while I am free.

In November 2014, months after she was incarcerated in Russia, Ukrainians elected Savchenko a member of their parliament, the Rada, and politics seems to come easy to her. This week, from her first day of freedom, Savchenko voiced as if she was ready build important decisions.

All her life, Savchenko has been a little different. Even before Lieutenant Savchenko, an air force officers, volunteered to fight in Ukraines ground forces, she was known by her countrymen as a female soldier serving with peacekeeping troops in Iraq and the first female student at Air Force University in Krarkiv, where she studied until 2009.

In March, when the Russian tribunal observed Savchenko guilty in the killing of two Russian journalists; many in Russia watched her as heartless assassin. But during the many long months of her trial, Ukrainians set images with Savchenkos face on flags, banners and billboards, demonstrated for her liberty, turned her into a martyred icon of patriotism.

Savchenko went on an 83 -day hunger strike during the trial, growing feverish, gaunt and weak. Ukrainians watched images of the pilots pale, boney face and journalists started calling her Ukraines Joan of Arc.

But on Wednesday she seemed strong and sounded like Ukraines future leader. Right in the airport in front of all the video cameras Savchenko vowed to do everything possible to bring all Ukrainian prisoners home. I am ready to give my life for Ukraine on the battlefield, Savchenko declared. She also added, in a thinly veiled including references to bitternes of the government among serving soldiers that it is easier to attain heroes of them when they are dead than when theyre alive.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov referred to Yerofeyev and Alexandrov, who is alleged to be a former is part of the GRU, or Russian military intelligence, as merely Russian citizens, and said that President Putin did not have any planned meetings with these pardoned prisoners.

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