Tortured and jailed, Ukrainian women run for office

One was humiliated and beaten by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, the other arrested and shipped off to Moscow, where she has been incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. 

AFP| Updated: Oct 22, 2014, 08:48 AM IST

Kiev: One was humiliated and beaten by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, the other arrested and shipped off to Moscow, where she has been incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. 

Now both Iryna Dovgan and Nadiya Savchenko are standing for parliament in Sunday`s polls with campaigns that paint them as patriotic heroines who have put their lives on the line for their country.

"I want to fight for my land, I want to help rebuild my region," said Dovgan, a 52-year-old beautician who is running as an independent candidate in Slavyansk, a town in eastern Ukraine that Kiev`s forces wrestled from the pro-Russian rebels in July.

"If I become a lawmaker, I will be a new type of politician," she told AFP. "My main task will be battling corruption, which is our country`s main problem."

Back in August, Dovgan could not imagine in her wildest dreams that she would be running for parliament: her main concern was staying alive.

The resident of Yasynuvata, a town controlled by the rebels near Donetsk, said that armed men raided her home and took her prisoner, claiming she was an artillery spotter for Ukraine`s army.

Dovgan, who had openly supported Kiev and helped the army with supplies, was held captive, publicly humiliated and beaten for four days, she recounted.

On one occasion, she was tied to a lamp post in Donetsk as passers-by hurled abuse, spat in her face and kicked her.

She said pro-Ukrainian activists in Slavyansk are now helping her run but that her chances are slim. 

"They help post and hand out flyers for free, but the race is really tough," she said, with other candidates having more money at their disposal.
Unlike Dovgan, Nadiya Savchenko has no chance of physically representing her constituents in parliament.

Since July, when the 33-year-old first ended up in Russian custody, posters with her smiling face framed by short-cropped hair have proliferated in the Ukrainian capital, and there is even a documentary about her that premiered this week, titled "Our Nadiya".

Savchenko, a helicopter navigator in the Ukrainian airforce, was fighting in a Ukrainian volunteer battalion in eastern Ukraine while on leave from the armed forces.

Russia alleges she was involved in the deaths of two Russian journalists who were killed by shelling close to a rebel checkpoint. It says she was arrested after crossing the border into Russia illegally.

Ukraine argues that Savchenko was abducted from Ukraine and brought by force to a prison in southern Russia before being transferred to Moscow.

While Savchenko -- christened G.I. Jane by Ukrainian media due to her dogged efforts to become a military pilot -- awaits trial in Russia, the Batkyvschina party of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko has selected her as its top candidate.

Tymoshenko said Savchenko had specifically requested to be on her party`s ticket, despite speculation over whether this could damage her chances of release.

A hero at home, Savchenko in late September was placed in Moscow`s notorious Serbsky Centre, a psychiatric hospital that in Soviet times enabled the forced incarceration of dissidents, for a psychiatric evaluation.

"My daughter is not guilty. She wanted to defend her country from the occupants," her mother Maria Savchenko said earlier this month outside Moscow`s Basmanny district court where her daughter`s appeals against her detention are being heard.

"She hugged me before she left, saying: Mum, I`m leaving to defend my country." 

Savchenko`s Russian lawyer Mark Feygin said that she was placed in the psychiatric institute to isolate her from her defence team.

"I hope for international pressure to assist in her release," Andriy Kozhemyakin, her running mate in Batkyvschina, told AFP. 

The United States has called for Nadiya Savchenko`s release, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying last week that "Hostages - all hostages - need to be released, and that includes the pilot, Nadia Savchenko".