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DONETSK, Russia (AP) — Defiant in her closing statement Wednesday to a Russian court, Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko brandished her middle finger, burst into the Ukrainian national anthem and declared her trial in the death of two Russian journalists to be “the farce of Kremlin puppets.”

Savchenko’s case has sparked anger at home and sharp criticism from the West since her detention under murky circumstances in 2014.

She was fighting with a volunteer brigade against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia claims she was acting as a spotter and called in the coordinates for a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists and several other civilians.

Savchenko denies the allegation, and the Ukrainian government says she was abducted by Russia and should be treated as a prisoner of war.

The judge said he would begin reading the verdict on March 21, a procedure expected to take two days. Her lawyers say that conviction is a foregone conclusion; the only question is if the court will impose the 23 years in prison sought by prosecutors.

In protest of repeated delays in court proceedings, Savchenko last week announced a hunger strike. In court on Wednesday, she appeared pale, clad in a T-shirt displaying the trident that is Ukraine’s national emblem.

“In Russia, there are no courts and no investigations. Here there is only the farce of Kremlin puppets” Savchenko told the court. “If you want to show your strength, go ahead. But remember, we are playing with my life. The stakes are high and I have nothing to lose.”

International attention to the case included sharp criticism from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who on Tuesday called for her immediate release and said her health is deteriorating because of the hunger strike.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffan Seibert, also called for her release and said that Savchenko was subject to “questionable interrogation methods and breaches of international standards.”

A group of European Parliament lawmakers has pushed for the EU to levy more sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian lawmakers, in part because of the handling of the Savchenko case. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin on Wednesday spoke about Ukraine’s demand that Ukrainian doctors be able to visit Savchenko. A Foreign Ministry statement said Lavrov rejected the appeal because of her “insulting” statement to the court.

Until the next court appearance, Savchenko won’t be allowed to have visitations with her family, Ukrainian counsels or Ukrainian doctors, according to Polozov.

About 2,000 Ukrainians rallied in central Kiev on Sunday to demand that Russia release Savchenko, and the officer’s ongoing imprisonment has sparked outrage in the international community as well.

Savchenko lawyer Mark Feygin has expressed hope that the Kremlin could allow her to serve out her sentence in Ukraine, which is legal under Russian law.

“It is the only way, not just to stop (her) hunger strike, but also to finish the case with dignity,” Feygin told journalists on Wednesday.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Wednesday that negotiation on any decision concerning Savchenko’s future won’t happen— in theory or practice— until the verdict is pronounced.

Such an arrangement could also depend on the results of the trial in Ukraine of two Russians who were captured in eastern Ukraine and charged with being Russian soldiers. However, that trial on Wednesday was postponed for a week because the lawyer for one of the men didn’t appear, and a lawyer for the other said he had not been reachable by telephone for two days.


Katherine Jacobsen reported from Moscow.