Five Europeans captured in eastern Ukraine have gone on trial in a court administered by Kremlin-backed separatists in the city of Donetsk, Russian media reported.
The five – Mathias Gustafsson of Sweden, Vjekoslav Prebeg of Croatia, and Britons John Harding, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy – all pleaded not guilty to charges of being mercenaries and “undergoing training to seize power by force”, according to Russian media reports.
They could face the death penalty under the laws of the self-proclaimed, unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic.
The next court hearing in their case is scheduled for October, Russian media reported.
Harding, Prebeg and Gustafsson were captured in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol and face possible execution for attempting to “seize power by force” and “taking part in armed conflict as mercenaries”, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Hill faces charges of being a mercenary, while Healy is being tried for taking part in the recruitment of mercenaries for Ukraine, the news agency said.
On 9 June, the supreme court of the self-proclaimed republic sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan, all of whom were captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s industrial east, to death for being mercenaries. All three have appealed against their verdicts.
There has been a moratorium on the death penalty in Russia since 1997, but it does not apply in the two separatist regions in Ukraine.
Ukrainian social media has been abuzz with speculation that the Kremlin may seek to use the foreign fighters to extract concessions from Ukraine or swap them for Russian prisoners.