Wife of British fighter captured by Russians slams 'absurd trial'

‘Praying for my warrior’: Wife of British fighter facing death penalty after being captured by Russians in Mariupol slams ‘absurd and cynical trial’ and warns Putin’s propaganda circus won’t end any time soon

  • Brits Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28, were captured in Ukraine in April during the siege of Mariupol
  • The so-called supreme court of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) issued the death sentences on Thursday
  • Pinner’s Ukrainian wife Larysa condemned ‘the absurdity and cynicism of this rotten event called a trial’ 
  • She also warned her husband’s sentencing and appeal will be dragged out for maximum propaganda effect
  • Devastated family of Aiden Aslin have urged the UK and Ukraine Governments to help bring them home safely
  • Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim has also been sentenced, reports said as video showed the trio in a cage
  • The trio were accused of being ‘mercenaries’ after fighting for Ukraine’s armed forces in the battle for the city
  • UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the sentences as a ‘sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy’

The wife of British soldier Shaun Pinner who was sentenced to death by firing squad after being captured by Russian forces while fighting for Ukraine has blasted the ‘absurdity and cynicism of this rotten and false event called a trial’.

Larysa Pinner, a Ukrainian native, said her husband was a ‘warrior’ and warned that the ‘circus’ surrounding her husband’s sentencing will be dragged out by Russia’s propaganda machine for maximum effect.

‘We all understand that Russian propaganda uses this case to the fullest, and this circus will go on for a long time,’ she wrote on Facebook.

She added that Ukrainian and British officials were ‘doing everything they can to influence this lawlessness’ and ‘resolve this situation’.

‘The International Committee of the Red Cross is aware, they will even more actively demand access to the guys (yet Russia has not given permission, which is expected). 

‘I still pray that our Warriors can endure all of this!’ Larysa said.  

Mr Pinner, 48, was sentenced along with 28-year-old Aiden Aslin, another British fighter serving with the Ukrainian military who was detained by Russian forces in Mariupol. 

The 48-year-old British Army veteran from Watford looked distraught in the caged dock as the death sentence was read out yesterday, while Mr Aslin, from Newark in Nottinghamshire, remained silent but composed.

Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin were previously forced to beg for their lives during scripted phone calls to family members and UK journalists by the Russian-backed separatists who are holding them captive.

They were convicted of being ‘mercenaries’ and conducting ‘terrorist activities’ for fighting with Ukrainian troops, in what Tory minister Robert Jenrick called a ‘Soviet-era style show trial’, weeks after they were captured during the siege of Mariupol.

The pair, both signed-up members of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, were sentenced to death and are set to face a firing squad, pending appeal.

Mr Pinner’s mother, Denise Price, 65, also reported getting a phone call and said it seems as though the British fighters are ‘being used for propaganda’, according to the Sun. 

Meanwhile, it is understood Mr Aslin’s mother Ang Wood found out about the barbaric sentence while watching the TV news at the family home in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

The 28-year-old’s devastated family, who met officials at the Ukrainian Embassy in London on Thursday, demanded he is ‘treated with respect’ and urged both the UK Government to help bring them home safely – something a Whitehall source has cautioned could make matters worse.

In a statement, the family said: ‘We’ve heard the news from Donetsk and need some time to take everything in.

‘We love Aiden with all our hearts. He and Shaun, as members of Ukrainian armed forces, should be treated with respect just like any other prisoners of war. They are not, and never were, mercenaries.

‘We hope that this sentence will be overturned and beseech the government’s of the UK and Ukraine to do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely, and soon.

‘We can only imagine what they are going through right now. This is a very upsetting development and we ask that our privacy is respected at this time.’

It has also emerged that the key to the British men’s fate could be oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, known as Vladimir Putin’s ‘man in Ukraine’ and currently in Kyiv’s custody. The death penalties handed out to Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin could be a tactic by Russia to increase pressure on getting Medvedchuk out of Ukrainian hands. 

Larysa Pinner, a Ukrainian native, said her husband Shaun was a ‘warrior’ and warned that the ‘circus’ surrounding her husband’s sentencing will be dragged out by Russia’s propaganda machine for maximum effect

Shaun Pinner (pictured with his wife Larysa) had moved to Ukraine four years before joining Ukrainian marines

Aiden Aslin (right) and Shaun Pinner (left) were detained in April during the siege of Mariupol while fighting in Ukraine, before appearing in court in the separatist region of Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and handed death sentences after a show trial

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the sentences as a ‘sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy’ in a statement

British fighters captured while fighting in Ukraine were forced to beg for their lives in scripted phone calls to UK journalists by the Russian-backed separatists who are holding them captive. Pictured: Aiden Aslin (first left) and Shaun Pinner (second left)

Shaun Pinner closed his eyes and looked down in despair during his sentencing

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss slammed the ruling as a ‘sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy’, declaring that the men were prisoners of war.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said the UK was working with Kyiv to try and secure the men’s release, with Downing Street describing the Prime Minister as ‘deeply concerned’.

‘Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity,’ said a PM spokesman. 

However, a Whitehall source cautioned that getting more involved could worsen the situation. They added: ‘There’s a solid rationale for not wanting to escalate this and make it a bilateral issue between the UK and Russia.

‘This is because international law considers them Ukrainian combatants, and Ukraine is responsible for them in legal terms. If the UK gets involved, it will aid Russia’s argument that these are mercenaries.’

The three men said they will appeal the decision. The court in the DPR, one of two self-proclaimed break-away states in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas, is not internationally recognised. 

The key to the British men’s fate could be oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, known as Vladimir Putin’s ‘man in Ukraine’ and currently in Kyiv’s custody.

The hostage Britons were previously paraded on camera asking to be exchanged in a prisoner swap for Medvedchuk, 67.

Putin is godfather to one of his children and their families have enjoyed Black Sea holidays together.

Oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, who is known as Vladimir Putin’s ‘man in Ukraine’ and is currently in Kyiv’s custody

However the Ukrainian authorities seem unwilling to give up Medvedchuk – who lived in Kyiv – as he was last week charged with treason.

The former politician and lawyer had been placed under house arrest last year, accused of selling military secrets to Moscow and helping in the annexation of Crimea.

But he fled four days after the invasion in February, only to be arrested in April while wearing military fatigues in an attempt to blend in.

He was offered to Moscow in return for ‘boys and girls who are now in Russian captivity’, something that was dismissed by the Kremlin but which came with a warning Ukrainian leaders should ‘watch out’.

Yesterday’s show trial is being seen as a possible tit-for-tat response. The death penalties could be a tactic by Russia to increase pressure on getting Medvedchuk out of Ukrainian hands.

They appeared behind a metal cage at a court in territory occupied by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine as the verdict was read out yesterday. 

The pair were captured by Russian forces after becoming surrounded in the port city of Mariupol in April. They have since been paraded in various videos with visible injuries and appeared to read from scripts.

Meanwhile, a friend who fought alongside Aiden Aslin told BBC’s Newsnight he believed the death sentences would ‘invigorate’ those still resisting Russian advances in Ukraine. 

Brennan Phillips, an American former soldier who met Mr Aslin in Syria and worked alongside him in Ukraine before the Briton’s capture in April said: ‘I think it will invigorate people more than anything. Whatever effect they thought they would have in this provocation, I don’t think that and I don’t think it’s going to be well-received.

‘And they did this as a provocation. They chose and I think many people expected that they would choose, Russia would choose, the most provocative stance that they could take in a quote unquote, death sentence.

‘I do not believe that Sean or Aiden will be subject to the death sentence or anything like that. I do believe that their captivity under the Russians will be extended for a little bit, but I do believe wholeheartedly and I’m very confident that they will be released safely back to their families.’

Mr Phillips, from Tennesse, said Mr Aslin had a well established life in Ukraine and had not gone to fight there as a ‘thrill-seeker’.

He added: ‘He went to Ukraine in 2017. He has a Ukrainian fiancée. They do have or did have a home outside of Mariupol. And he was a part of the 36th Marine Brigade.

‘So, yeah, he had a well established life in Ukraine, Ukrainian citizenship. He planned on ultimately staying and living in Ukraine. So it’s like you said, it’s not like he decided to to go there as a thrill seeker of any sort.’

Former care worker Aslin moved from Newark in Nottinghamshire to Ukraine in 2018 after meeting his now-fiancée. In the same year he became a marine with the Ukrainian military. 

Pinner, an ex-British Army soldier originally from Bedfordshire, moved to Ukraine four years ago to join the Ukrainian military.

The two Britons surrendered in April in Mariupol, the southern port city that was captured by Russian troops after a brutal weeks-long siege that all but levelled the city. 

They later appeared on Russian TV calling on Johnson to negotiate their release. 

Their cellmate Brahim surrendered in March in the eastern town of Volnovakha.

‘The Supreme Court of the DPR passed the first sentence on mercenaries – the British Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and the Moroccan Saadun Brahim were sentenced to death, RIA Novosti correspondent reports from the courtroom,’ RIA said on the Telegram messaging app.

A former care worker, Mr Aslin (pictured left) moved to Ukraine after falling for his now-wife Diane (pictured right), who is originally from the city of Mykolaiv – found about 260 miles west of Mariupol, along the coast. She is reported to have moved to the UK to be with his family

Aiden (circled) was serving with Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, but his communication with the outside world via social media became increasingly sporadic as his team was surrounded by Russian forces bombarding the city of Mariupol

Judge Alexander Nikulin who presided over the sham court in Donetsk said: ‘The aggregated penalty for the crimes [means] the sentence Aiden Aslin to an exceptional measure of punishment, the death penalty.

‘The aggregated penalty for the crimes [means] the sentence [of] Shaun Pinner to an exceptional measure of punishment, the death penalty.’  

The judge did not mention another British detainee Andrew Hill, 35, a father of four from Plymouth, who surrendered separately to Vladimir Putin’s forces, but who has also been warned about a death penalty.

The sentence was issued after a three day trial in which the five ‘witnesses’ in the case did not appear. The three men stood in a court cage.

Aslin and Pinner are said to have admitted ‘training in order to carry out terrorist activities,’ before appearing again on Thursday when they were sentenced.

It is believed the men will be permitted to lodge an appeal within one month, and to ask for a pardon from the rebel authorities in Donetsk.

The DPR released a video of the three men being read their sentences. 

Aiden Aslin 

Born: 1994, Newark-on-Trent

Worked as: Care worker

Combat experience: Travelled to Syria in 2015 to fight for the Kurds in a western-backed alliance against ISIS.

He made headlines on his return to the UK in 2016 when he was arrested, charged with terrorism offences, and then kept on bail until all charges were dropped following protests.

Aslin then returned to Syria in 2017 to help in the fight to re-take the city of Raqqa, which had been the de-facto capital of ISIS’s terror-state.

Journey to Ukraine: After being arrested in the UK a second time trying to return from Syria via Greece, Aslin moved to Ukraine after falling for a woman from the city of Mykolaiv.

Having heard about Ukraine’s fight against Russia in Donbas from Ukrainian volunteers in Syria, he was persuaded to join the military and in 2018 signed up as a marine.

Aslin completed three tours of the frontline and was dug into trenches in the Donbas in late February when Putin’s troops stormed across the border in a second invasion.

He ended up falling back to the nearby city of Mariupol where he fought for weeks under siege, before being captured in April after his unit ran out of ammunition.

Shaun Pinner 

Born: 1974, Bedfordshire

Worked as: A British Army veteran, having served for years in the Royal Anglian regiment.

Combat experience: Fought ‘many’ tours including in northern Ireland, according to his family, who said he also served with United Nations missions in Bosnia.

Journey to Ukraine: Pinner moved to Ukraine in 2018 which he made his ‘adopted home’ and decided to put his military training to use fighting Russian-backed rebels in the country’s eastern Donbas.

He became engaged to a Ukrainian woman and worked his way into the marines, where he had been serving for the last two years.

Pinner’s three-year contract with the marines was due to end at the end of this year, his family said, when he wanted to become a humanitarian worker in the country.

Pinner was helping to defend the frontlines in Donbas when Putin’s invasion began on February 24.

His unit of marines ended up hooking up with the Azov Battalion – members of the national guard with links to neo-Nazis – who were defending the city of Mariupol from the Russians.

He was captured in Mariupol in April and paraded on state TV.

Howard Morrison QC, UK’s Independent war crimes Advisor to Ukraine told BBC’s Newsnight yesterday that it was possible the sentences were being used as a ploy to instigate a prisoner swap.

He said: ‘I would hesitate to call it a judicial process, frankly. Judges have to be completely independent and have to act with an eye to due process and the requirements of international law and national law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Geneva Conventions. I see precious little sign of any of that happening.

‘It’s very unlikely that it’s straightforward. There’s almost certainly going to be a subtext in there somewhere.

‘And the likelihood is that it is for negotiation purposes. In a sense, I hope so, because these men are under the death penalty, and the last thing you want is for that to be implemented.

‘But if it is for negotiation, it’s difficult to see exactly what the subtext is – because the British government isn’t holding any prisoners, it’s the Ukrainians who are holding the prisoners.

‘But the complaints that I saw today reported that came out of Number 10 are, frankly, absolutely spot on. These men are prisoners of war who should be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. There shouldn’t have been a show trial and there certainly shouldn’t have been a death penalty.’

Tory former minister Robert Jenrick, who represents the Newark constituency where Mr Aslin lived, called for the Russian ambassador to the UK to be summoned to the Foreign Office.

He said: ‘This disgusting Soviet-era style show trial is the latest reminder of the depravity of Putin’s regime. Russia should be clear, they cannot treat British citizens like this and get away with it.

Pictured: Shaun Pinner (second right) is seen in this selfie, along with Aiden Aslin (second left)

Pinner is a former Royal Anglian soldier originally from Bedfordshire

Thousands killed and roadside graves piled with bodies: The bloody battle for Mariupol

Aslin and Pinner were captured by Russian forces during the long and bloody siege of Mariupol.

The city is now fully in the hands of Russian forces, having been cut off from the rest of Ukraine early in the war and subjected to horrifying barrages and a siege.

Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians fought fiercely to defend the city’s Azovstal steelworks, a key strategic supply point, from Russian invaders.

But despite their valiant efforts, Putin’s forces took control of Azovstal two weeks ago following civilian evacuations.

As many as 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers stayed behind – with Kyiv claiming its troops are now being tortured with pliers and electric shocks. 

Civilians were earlier left without heat, food or water for weeks and described melting snow for something to drink before drinking from radiators when the snow ran out.

Mariupol was the scene of perhaps the deadliest single attack of the war when a Russian jet bombed a theatre with the word ‘children’ scrawled on the pavement outside, killing up to 600 people sheltering inside.

Thousands are known to have died in the siege, with their bodies often piled into mass graves hastily dug alongside roads.

But the true toll is thought to be far higher, with many families force to bury relatives killed by the shelling in plots dug into gardens and parks with no tally taken.

City officials estimate at least 20,000 civilians died, but others who remain in the city behind Russian lines and are now helping to dig graves said last week that the true toll could be as high as 50,000.

‘Contrary to the Kremlin’s propaganda, Aiden Aslin is not a mercenary. He has been living in Ukraine and serving in its armed forces before Russia’s illegal invasion and as a prisoner of war is entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention.

‘The Russian ambassador should be summoned to the Foreign Office to account for this most egregious breach of the Geneva Convention.

‘Aiden must be released as soon as practicable.’

Shadow Europe minister Stephen Doughty said: ‘It is an outrageous and shameful breach of international law for the Russian regime or its puppets to use an illegitimate court to prosecute legitimate prisoners of war who are entitled to combatant immunity.’

James Cleverly, Minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, also took to Twitter to condemn the ‘verdict’. ‘The UK position on the status of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner is clear,’ he said.

‘They are prisoners of war and must be treated as such. The judgment against them has no legitimacy. We will continue to support them.

Layla Moran – the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokeswoman – said: ‘This is horrific and a clear breach of international law. My thoughts are with these brave men and their families at this deeply distressing time.

‘It’s vital that the UK Government swiftly engages with international partners – we need a unified front of condemnation at this egregious decision.’

Human rights organisation Amnesty International called the decision ‘grotesque’, saying that Thursday’s court appearance bore all the hallmarks of a show-trial.

‘This is a grotesque decision,’ Amnesty International UK’s Crisis Response Manager, said. ‘This so-called trial always had the appearance of a show trial designed to exert pressure on the UK, and these sentences look like they’re intended to fire a warning shot to the UK over its support for Ukraine in this brutal war.

‘The Geneva Conventions clearly state that prisoners of war must not be tried or sentenced simply for participating in hostilities, and still less should they ever receive death sentences.

‘Russia and its proxies in the Donetsk People’s Republic will be adding to a massive catalogue of war crimes if they attempt to carry out these sentences.

‘The UK and the UN and other bodies should inform Moscow that these sentences are completely unacceptable and must be quashed immediately.’

The court in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) – one of two self-proclaimed break-away states in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region – is not internationally recognised

Aiden had been fighting Russian forces in Mariupol as a fully paid member of Ukraine’s army, but surrendered to the invaders two days ago after his team ran out of supplies and ammunition following 48 days of conflict in and around the besieged port city

On Monday, Dominic Raab said the Foreign Office will ‘make all the representations’ on Mr Aslin’s behalf and his family have also issued an emotional statement calling for his release.

They said: ‘We, the family of Aiden Aslin, wish to ask for privacy at this time from the media. This is a very sensitive and emotional time for our family, and we would like to say thank you to all that have supported us.

‘We are currently working with the Ukrainian government and the Foreign Office to try and bring Aiden home. Aiden is a much-loved man and very much missed, and we hope that he will be released very soon.’

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: ‘We are working with the government of Ukraine on the detention of British Nationals.

‘We condemn the exploitation of Prisoners of War for political purposes. They are entitled to combatant immunity and should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.’

Western countries have provided weapons and aid for Ukraine since the February 24 invasion, while a number of people from abroad have come to fight against Russian forces.

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