Five foreign nationals captured fighting with Ukrainian forces were charged on Monday as being mercenaries by a Russian-backed separatist court in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk with three of them potentially facing the death penalty.
Under the laws of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Croatian Vjekoslav Prebeg, Swedish citizen Mathias Gustafsson, and Briton John Harding face a possible death sentence after they were captured in the port city of Mariupol, including at the Azovstal steel plant.
Among other things, they were charged with participation as a mercenary in an armed conflict or military action, undergoing training to seize violently power, and violent seizure of power.
On top of the ‘not guilty’ plead, Gustavsson insisted that he had not participated in fighting while Harding refused. The other two foreign fighters, Britons Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill were also charged but do not face execution although they could face lengthy prison terms.
The trial in which all five of the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges, would resume in early October, the judge said.
Responding to the charges against Prebeg, the Croatian Foreign Ministry firmly believes that the indictment – that Croatia dismisses – is not founded and legal because it is violating both the international law and international conventions on the treatment of detained civilians and POWs. The British Foreign Office, on the other hand, has so far avoided commenting on the case.
Citing the Donetsk People’s Republic internationally recognized status as part of Ukraine, foreign governments have also declined to negotiate with the DPR, one of two Russian-backed entities that have controlled parts of east Ukraine’s Donbas region since 2014.
Previously in June, DPR authorities sentenced to death two Britons and one Moroccan on charges of attempting to forcibly seize power, and of being mercenaries after they were captured fighting against Russia.