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Russian court sentences 5 foreigners who fought for Ukraine to prison in absentia

by Kateryna Denisova June 26, 2024 6:33 PM 2 min read
Photo for illustrative purpose. A soldier from a Ukrainian assault brigade walks across a muddy road used to transport and position British made L118 105mm Howitzers on March 04, 2023 near Bakhmut, Ukraine. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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A Rostov-on-Don court sentenced five citizens from the U.K., Sweden, and Croatia in absentia to prison terms ranging from 3.5 to 23 years on June 26 for fighting alongside Ukraine amid Russia's full-scale war, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office claimed.

The court accused British citizen John Harding, Swedish citizen Mathias Gustafsson, and Croatian citizen Vjekoslav Prebeg of training for the so-called "violent seizure of power," attempting to change Russia's constitutional order, and participating in the war as "mercenaries."

Each of these three was sentenced in absentia to 23 years' imprisonment, with five years to be served in prison and the remainder in a strict regime colony, as stated in the official announcement.

Two other British citizens, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy, were convicted of participating in the war as a "mercenary" and "complicity in the recruitment of mercenaries," respectively. Hill received a four-year sentence, while Healy was sentenced to three years and six months, both to be served in a general regime colony.

The specific reasons for these accusations were not detailed. The U.K., Sweden, and Croatia have yet to comment on Russia's statement.

The five foreigners were among those freed from Russian captivity in prisoner exchanges in 2022. They faced fake “trials” on the occupied territory of Donetsk Oblast and could be sentenced to death.

The soldiers denied Russia's accusations. Prebeg said he came to Kyiv in 2019 to help Ukraine in the Russia's unleashed war in the country's east, and decided to join Ukraine's army soon after, Reuters reported.

Family and friends of Harding, Hill and Healey said they were not mercenaries and have called for them to be treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, according to the BBC.

Russia has been reportedly recruiting foreigners from such countries as Nepal, Somalia, India, Cuba, and others to fight in Ukraine from the very beginning of the full-scale invasion.

Moscow use them as "cannon fodder" on the front without preparing mercenaries for combat activities, said Petro Yatsenko, a spokesperson of Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

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