Ukraine aims to free captured Brits sentenced to death in prisoner swap deal

11 June 2022, 08:46 | Updated: 11 June 2022, 15:21

Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, have been sentenced to death by 'firing squad'
Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, have been sentenced to death by 'firing squad'. Picture: Twitter/Shaun Pinner

By Will Taylor

Ukraine will attempt to get two captured Britons held by pro-Russian separatists released in a swap.

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Kyiv's ambassador to the UK said Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner had been a target because of London’s support for Ukraine.

Mr Aslin, 28, from Nottinghamshire, and Mr Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire, were both serving in the Ukrainian armed forces in Mariupol at the time of their capture.

They were sentenced to death with a third man, Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, by rulers of the breakaway pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic, an entity in eastern Ukraine only recognised by Moscow.

They were found guilty of "committing actions aimed at seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order of the Donetsk People's Republic" in a court that is not internationally recognised.

RIA Novosti said the three are set to face a firing squad.

Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador, said: "It will be a swap. The important question is what will be the price for this, because the Russians were talking about some Ukrainian MPs being swapped for them, especially for those who, I now understand, were working for them for all these years."

He told the BBC the men were "our people" and they were contracted to the Ukrainian military. Pro-Russian propaganda has attempted to portray them as foreign mercenaries.

"We expect Russians to remember that these are our people, now they are prisoners of war and should be treated as prisoners of war - the same way we are treating Russians who are in our captivity," he said.

Aiden Aslin is one of two Brits to be sentenced to death
Aiden Aslin is one of two Brits to be sentenced to death. Picture: Twitter

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP, said Britain needed to keep its "feet on the ground" over the death sentences and expected a "bigger picture is at play here, this is all about Russia trying to lay claim to the east part of Ukraine for the long-term" and expected a prisoner swap will take place.

The wife of Mr Pinner slammed the 'absurd and cynical trial', warning that Putin's propaganda will not end any time soon.

Larysa Pinner, a Ukrainian native, said her husband was a "warrior" and warned that the propaganda surrounding his sentencing would be dragged out by Russia.

She said in a Facebook post: "We all understand that Russian propaganda uses this case to the fullest, and this circus will go on for a long time."

She added: "The International Committee of the Red Cross is aware, they will even more actively demand access to the guys (yet Russia has not given permission, which is expected). 

"I still pray that our Warriors can endure all of this!"

A statement issued on Saturday by the Foreign Office on behalf of Mr Pinner's family said they are "devastated and saddened at the outcome of the illegal show trial".

Relatives added: "As a Ukrainian resident for over four years and contracted serving marine in the 36th Brigade, of which he is very proud, Shaun should be accorded all the rights of a prisoner of war according to the Geneva Convention and including full independent legal representation.

"We sincerely hope that all parties will co-operate urgently to ensure the safe release or exchange of Shaun. Our family, including his son and Ukrainian wife, love and miss him so much and our hearts go out to all the families involved in this awful situation."

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It comes after the Prime Minister ordered ministers to do "everything in their power" to secure the release of the fighters, who were sentenced to death following a show trial.

Although so far the government has not summoned the Russian Ambassador and it is unclear if the Prime Minister has spoken the families of either man.

On Friday, foreign secretary Liz Truss held a phone call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba "reiterating her concern and discussing next steps".

She tweeted: "Spoke with Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba to discuss efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war held by Russian proxies. The judgment against them is an egregious breach of the Geneva convention."

The two men had been forced to call their families back home and plea for their lives.

The Sun said both men made effectively the same statement in which they said they faced the death penalty or 20 years behind bars.

The paper reported it had been called seven times by the pair since April 25.

Shaun's mother, Denise Price, said she was called and believed the men are being used as propaganda.

The family of Mr Aslin demanded on Thursday that he be "treated with respect" as neither he or Mr Pinner are actually "mercenaries".

A statement read: "We've heard the news from Donetsk and need some time to take everything in.

"We love Aiden with all our hearts. He and Shaun, as members of Ukrainian armed forces, should be treated with respect just like any other prisoners of war.

"They are not, and never were, mercenaries.

"We hope that this sentence will be overturned and beseech the government's of the UK and Ukraine to do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely, and soon.

"We can only imagine what they are going through right now.

"This is a very upsetting development and we ask that our privacy is respected at this time."

Read more: Two 'much-loved' Brits captured by Russia face 20 years behind bars

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Mr Aslin is one of two Brits sentenced to death by Russia
Mr Aslin is one of two Brits sentenced to death by Russia. Picture: Twitter @cossackgundi

Downing Street said the UK Government was "deeply concerned" following the sentences.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister was appalled at the sentencing of these men. He has been following the case closely and has asked ministers to do everything in their power to try and reunite them with their families as soon as we can.

"We completely condemn the sham sentencing of these men to death. There's no justification at all for this breach of the protection they're entitled to."

The trio have a month to appeal the sentence, according to Interfax, another Russian news agency.

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: "Currently they are guided by the laws of the Donetsk People's Republic.

"Because these crimes were committed on the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic, all the rest is speculation.

"I will not comment on the Donetsk People's Republic judiciary."

A statement by Russia's foreign ministry said the UK should appeal against the sentence with the unrecognised republic, describing the UK's response to a death sentence against two Britons as "often hysterical".

The chair of the panel of judges Alexander Nikulin said the sentence was fair, saying the court had been guided by "the main, inviolable principle of justice", according to Interfax.

Mr Pinner is a "much-loved" husband and father
Mr Pinner is a "much-loved" husband and father. Picture: LBC

Mr Aslin moved to Ukraine in 2018, became engaged to a Ukrainian and joined the military.

A number of photos and videos of him have been released on Russian TV since his capture, in which he appears injured.

His family previously shared an emotional appeal expressing their hopes for his return to the UK.

Mr Pinner was in the British Army before he moved to Ukraine four years ago.

He is married to a Ukrainian.

His family previously said he is a "much-loved, well-intentioned husband, son, father, brother and friend".