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Britons Captured Fighting in Ukraine To Go on Trial; Death Penalty Feared

Although they have been accused of being 'mercenaries,' their families claim they were part of Ukraine's military.

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Russian proxy fighters in eastern Ukraine, said on Tuesday, 7 June, that they were initiating a trial against two British nationals, Aiden Aslin (28) and Shaun Pinner (48), who were captured fighting alongside Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol.

Prosecutors from the self-proclaimed People's Republic Donetsk, which is a Russian-controlled proxy government in eastern Ukraine, have said that the men stand a chance of being charged with the death penalty for "terrorism" and fighting as "mercenaries," The Guardian reported.

But their families had told the BBC, that they were part of Ukraine's military.

Aslin and his co-defendants have been charged with four separate offences: committing a crime as part of a criminal group; forcible seizure of power or forcible retention of power; being a mercenary; and the promotion of training in terrorist activities, The Guardian reported.
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Who Are They and How Did They Get to Ukraine?

Pinner has been in Ukraine since 2018 and is married to a Ukrainian. He had said, in April, that he was captured while he was defending Mariupol.

His family had reportedly said that he was “not a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serving with the Ukrainian army."

This was his fourth tour of duty in Ukraine after having served for nine years in the British Army, Pinner had told Sky News.

Aslin, who used to be a home care worker, has a Ukrainian fiancée. He joined Ukraine’s armed forces in 2018 and applied for citizenship, according to The Week.

He also ran a popular Twitter account that has pictures of him being sworn into the Ukrainian armed forces, reported The Guardian.

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The Trial: Nuremberg 2.0

Russian officials have threatened to set up Nuremberg-style military tribunals that are meant to counter the war crimes trials being held in Kyiv for alleged atrocities committed by Russian soldiers.

Commentators have said that the trials may be a strategy to apply pressure on the West to start prisoner exchanges for Russian soldiers captured and being tried in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Aslin and his fellow defendants have asked to be treated as regular prisoners of war as they were regular soldiers in the Ukrainian Army.

Trials in Ukraine

So far, Ukraine has sentenced three Russian soldiers to prison for war crimes linked to the Russian invasion that started on 24 February.

Vadim Shishimarin (21) was sentenced to life for killing a 62-year-old civilian in Ukraine’s Sumy region.

Two soldiers, Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, were each sentenced to more than 11 years in prison over shelling attacks on population centres that “violated the laws and customs of war," The Guardian reported.

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What Next?

The families of both men have appealed to the British government to intervene.

When asked about the case, UK Deputy PM and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said that although he was unaware of all the details, he "would expect the laws of armed conflict to be respected, and we will make sure that we will make all the representations.”

In a statement, Aslin’s family has requested privacy 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,” they said.

“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.”

(With inputs from The Guardian, The Week, BBC, and Sky News.)

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