Hero pilot Savchenko launches Ukraine opposition movement

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Kiev (AFP) - A popular Ukrainian female combat pilot who served time in a Russian prison gave President Petro Poroshenko a new headache Tuesday by launching her own opposition movement.

"This is meant to ... create a real change in the system," local media quoted Nadiya Savchenko as telling reporters in the western city of Lviv.

Savchenko's new movement is called RUNA -- an acronym for the Movement of Ukraine's Active People. She said the movement would be transformed into a political party when the time was right.

The announcement adds Savchenko to the slowly growing list of those willing to stand up to Kiev's pro-Western government that is seen as riddled with corruption.

Mikheil Saakashvili -- the former president of ex-Soviet Georgia who briefly served as governor of the strategic Odessa region -- has also created his own movement meant to topple Poroshenko and hold snap elections.

Ukraine has been torn by 31 months of war with insurgents that Kiev views as Russian proxies and is only starting to recover from an economic crisis that saw production shrink by about 17 percent in 2014-15.

Support for the government is low and morale weakened by the death of nearly 10,000 people in a conflict fought over regions that were once the industrial heartland of the former Soviet state.

Moscow denies any meddling but international monitors have seen tanks and other heavy military equipment enter the Ukrainian war zone from Russia throughout the war.

The 35-year-old Savchenko initially became a symbol of Ukraine's resistance to what Kiev considers Russia's occupation.

Yet Savchenko's political star has somewhat faded since her release from a Russian prison in May.

She had been sentenced for alleged complicity in the murder of two Russian state television journalists in the war zone in June 2014 -- a charge she denied and that led her to hold several hunger strikes.

Savchenko has contradicted Poroshenko by supporting direct talks with the militias and was forced out from the leadership post of the the populist political party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for that reason.

Poroshenko remains Ukraine's most popular politician and is a trusted ally of the West.

Yet his majority in parliament remains slim and people like Saakashvili and Savchenko are wildcards who may yet gain political strength.

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