Ukraine ex-pilot blames lawmaker for ties to Maidan snipers

MOSCOW (AP) — A former military pilot who became famous in Ukraine after spending two years in a Russian prison accused Ukraine’s parliament speaker of being associated with snipers who fired on protesters during Ukraine’s 2014 uprising but retracted her statement hours later.

Lawmaker Nadiya Savchenko told journalists that she saw Andriy Parubiy, a key organizer of the massive protests that drove Ukraine’s former Russia-friendly president from power, leading snipers into a hotel next to the capital’s main square, the Maidan. Hours later, Savchenko apologized to Parubiy, saying she mentioned his name by mistake and actually meant Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Pashinskiy.

Unidentified snipers killed dozens of people on the Maidan in February 2014, triggering public anger and leading to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula a month later and has supported a separatist insurgency fighting the government in eastern Ukraine since then.

Neither Parubiy nor Pashinskiy made any immediate comment on the accusation.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, quickly accused Savchenko of plotting to overthrow the government and asked lawmakers to strip her of her parliamentary immunity. He claimed that Savchenko is suspected of plotting to launch an attack on parliament with hand grenades and automatic weapons.

Savchenko was elected into parliament in 2014, months after she was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine while serving in a volunteer battalion. She ended up in a Russian jail under disputed circumstances.

In March 2016, she was convicted by Russia of acting as a spotter for mortar fire that killed two Russian journalists. She was sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison following a trial in which she wore an embroidered Ukrainian shirt, sang the national anthem and raised her middle finger in a show of contempt for the Russian authorities.

Following international outrage at her sentence, she was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and released from prison in May 2016, receiving a hero’s welcome at home.

However, she soon fell out with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s government, accusing it of corruption and incompetence. She has remained popular thanks to her energy and charisma.

Earlier this month, she strongly criticized the arrest of Ukraine’s top negotiator for prisoner exchanges with the rebels, Volodymyr Ruban. Officials have accused Ruban of preparing a series of attacks on Ukraine’s leaders, allegations that he has denied.

Savchenko showed up at Ukraine’s top security agency Thursday to testify in Ruban’s case.

Savchenko said she wasn’t afraid to challenge the government, which she said has betrayed public hopes generated by the 2014 ouster of Yanukovych.

“The truth is the strongest weapons, and I will defend the truth,” she said.

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