Moscow: Russia on Tuesday began hearing a case against two Ukrainians accused of murdering dozens of Russians during the Chechen war in the 1990s as part of a nationalist killing squad.
The powerful Investigative Committee said that the supreme court of Chechnya -- the highest court in the region -- has begun to hear the case against Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, both of whom have been in pre-trial detention for over a year on charges of murder and belonging to a militant organisation.
Their defence calls the case politically motivated, and the main evidence that the two men participated in the Chechen conflict 20 years ago is reportedly the testimony of a convict serving a long sentence for armed robbery.
In a statement on their official website, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said that Karpyuk and Klykh were members of a Ukrainian nationalist group UNA-UNSO whose goals were "to oppose the Russian government in any form and eliminate Russian citizens of Russian ethnicity."
The statement claimed the pair were among several Ukrainians who came to Chechnya to "attack and kill citizens, Russian soldiers and security officers".
Specifically, Markin said, they clashed with Russian troops in Grozny from December 1994 to January 1995, "killing at least 30 soldiers."
Their case is apparently part of a sweeping probe into participation by Ukrainians in Chechen hit squads led by the former coordinator of the far-right Right Sector group Oleksandr Myzytchko, who was shot dead by Ukrainian police last year.
Last week the head of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin made widely ridiculed allegations that Ukraine`s bespectacled Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk also participated in the killings, though Tuesday`s statement makes no mention of him.
Karpyuk and Klykh were arrested separately when they came to Russia in May and August of 2014, after another man accused of the crimes, Alexander Malofeyev, reportedly wrote testimony against them.
Malofeyev, also a Ukrainian, has been serving a long sentence since 2009 for armed robberies in Siberia, where his mother resides, Russia`s Kommersant daily wrote.
Russia fought two messy wars in Chechnya against separatists calling for an independent state. The military campaign ended with the installation of Ramzan Kadyrov, a former separatist warlord, at the helm of the war-torn region.