A Russian court on Monday found Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko guilty of complicity to murder two Russian journalists in war-torn eastern Ukraine, the AP reports. The judge who began reading the verdict said that Savchenko, who served in a volunteer Ukrainian battalion at the time, called in the coordinates for the shelling that killed the journalists and several civilians in July 2014, adding that she was driven by "political hatred" toward Ukraine's Luhansk region. Midway into the trial, the judge turned down her lawyers' plea to trace her cellphone calls on the day of the attack, which they said would prove she was a few miles away. The judge recounted the circumstances of the case, saying Savchenko was part of a "criminal group" and aimed to kill an "unlimited number of people." Prosecutors had sought a 23-year prison sentence. Sentencing is expected Tuesday.
Although a military pilot, Savchenko was fighting in the Aydar volunteer battalion against the rebels when she was captured by separatists in July 2014 before she surfaced in Russia. Moscow insists she escaped from the rebels and was captured after crossing the border by herself. Savchenko has been openly contemptuous of the judge and prosecutors, denouncing them as "idiots" and raising her middle finger in defiance. She went on an 83-day hunger strike while in detention, then began another this month when the court delayed the verdict. The Ukrainian government has protested Savchenko's arrest, saying she should be treated as a POW and released under the current truce. The EU and President Obama have called for Savchenko's immediate release. Speculation persists that Moscow could agree to exchange her for two Russians captured in eastern Ukraine and alleged to be active-duty soldiers, despite Russia's persistent denial it has sent troops to bolster the rebels.