Freed Ukrainian pilot back in Russia for jailed compatriots

Moscow (AFP) - A Ukrainian pilot released from a Russian prison in May was in Moscow on Wednesday to throw her support behind two compatriots jailed in Russia, her lawyer said.

This is the first time Nadiya Savchenko, who was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in absentia during her detention, has visited since her release in a prisoner swap.

Savchenko was at Russia's Supreme Court to attend an appeal against Moscow's sentencing of Ukrainians Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, who were slapped with up to 22 years in prison for fighting in the 1990s Chechnya war, lawyer Ilya Novikov wrote on Twitter.

The surprise visit comes as Ukrainian government troops remain locked in a conflict with pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine that has killed nearly 10,000 people since it erupted more than two years ago.

Russian state television showed Savchenko walking through the corridors of the Supreme Court, wearing a traditional embroidered Ukrainian blouse.

"Even if I do not return from Russia alive, I am still going there to support Mykola Karpyuk, Stanislav Klykh and all our guys who are in captivity in Russia," Savchenko said in a video recorded before her departure, posted on her Facebook page on Wednesday morning.

"I personally know how important it is when you see a Ukrainian in court, when you hear your native language, when someone shouts 'Glory to Ukraine!'" she added.

Savchenko was sentenced to 22 years in prison in March over the 2014 killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine in a high-profile trial that drew international condemnation.

Savchenko -- who was fighting in a pro-Kiev militia group against rebels in east Ukraine -- insists she was kidnapped by separatist fighters before the journalists were killed in June 2014 and then illegally smuggled to Russia.

She was swapped in May for two alleged Russian soldiers who fought in eastern Ukraine.

In Ukraine, she has become a symbol of resistance against what Kiev calls Moscow's aggression in the east.

Moscow's relations with Kiev are in shambles over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support of a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has denied accusations that it has sent troops and weaponry across its border to fuel the conflict.