Ukraine insurgents release two women thanks to Savchenko

Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - Ukraine's pro-Moscow insurgents on Tuesday released two women they had held captive thanks to the intervention of Nadya Savchenko -- a Kiev-born female combat pilot who spent nearly two years in a Russian jail.

The freeing of the women -- a judge and a journalist -- came after Savchenko, now a member of parliament, held a private meeting with the heads of the separatist regions of Lugansk and Donetsk earlier this month.

Savchenko has fervently taken up the cause of winning back the freedom of some 110 people believed to still be held by the militias in their industrial enclave in the southeast of Ukraine.

But her trip to the war zone created controversy in Kiev because it was not authorised by President Petro Poroshenko.

The Ukrainian leader refuses to have formal contacts with the rebellion's commanders because they lack legitimacy in his eyes.

An AFP correspondent saw two women -- regional judge Anzhelika Presnyakova and journalist Olga Svorak -- handed over to a Ukrainian envoy who came to the rebels' de facto capital of Donetsk.

It was not immediately clear how long they had been held captive or under what circumstances they were captured.

They were taken back to Ukrainian-held territory by Volodymyr Ruban, the head of a non-governmental organisation involved in prisoner swaps.

Ruban told reporters that Savchenko's visit to the separatist region "helped ease the prisoners' release".

But her trip has been condemned by some Ukrainian officials because it contradicted Kiev's line of refusing to negotiate with the insurgents but communicating with them through Western mediators.

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

Poroshenko and his Western allies view the separatists as Russian proxies who have been fighting a 31-month war that has claimed nearly 10,000 lives to destabilise the Ukrainian government and keep it dependent on the Kremlin's whims.

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

Yet Savchenko's political star has fallen since her release from Russia 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 which led her to hold a series of hunger strikes.

Savchenko has now taken on views that forced her to leave the populist political party of former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko that she originally headed.

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