Two Britons captured by Russian forces ‘are sentenced to death’ for fighting in Ukraine 

International fury as two Brits Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28, are sentenced to death by Russian separatists after they joined the Ukrainian army and were captured during the siege of Mariupol

Brits Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28, were captured in Ukraine in April during the siege of MariupolThe so-called supreme court of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) issued the death sentences on ThursdayMoroccan national Saaudun Brahim has also been sentenced, reports said. Video showed the trio in a cageThe trio were accused of being ‘mercenaries’ after fighting for Ukraine’s armed forces in the battle for the cityRussian media reported that they would appeal. The court is not internationally recognised, the BBC reportedUK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the death sentences as a ‘sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy’. No10 said it was ‘deeply concerned’

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Two British men captured by pro-Russian rebel forces in Ukraine have been sentenced to death and are set to face a firing squad after a sham three-day trial, sparking outrage from the UK and its Western allies.

Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were convicted of taking action towards violent seizure of power by the so-called supreme court of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on Thursday.

The men were accused of being ‘mercenaries’ for fighting with Ukrainian troops, with the verdict coming weeks after they were captured during the siege of Mariupol.

The judge said they were guilty of two war crimes amounting to 17 and seven years. He said the ‘aggregated penalty’ for the men was death. A third man, Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, was convicted alongside them.

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

The UK Government insisted the judgment had no legitimacy and the pair should be treated as prisoners of war. The UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the death sentences as a ‘sham judgment’ while No10 Downing Street said it was ‘deeply concerned’ by the development. ‘Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity,’ said a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

Elsewhere, Austrian Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic said: ‘The illegitimate verdict is a blatant breach of international law and a provocation by the Russian war party.’

Former care worker Aslin moved from Newark in Nottinghamshire to Ukraine in 2018 after meeting his now-fiancee. 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.  Brahim surrendered in March in the eastern town of Volnovakha.

Aiden Aslin (second-left) and Shaun Pinner (second-right) – along with Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim (right) – were all captured while fighting in Ukraine. Pictured: The three men are seen inside a cage in court on Thursday where they were each handed a death sentence

Aiden Aslin (right) and Shaun Pinner (left) were detained in April while fighting in Ukraine, before reportedly appearing in court in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)

The sentencing came as Russian President Vladimir Putin met with young entrepreneurs in Moscow on Thursday (pictured)

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets young entrepreneurs in Moscow on June 9, 2022

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

‘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.

Judge Alexander Nikulin 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 were detained in April while fighting in Ukraine, before reportedly appearing in court in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on Wednesday.

They 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.

Pinner appeared distraught and close to tears as the execution verdict was announced. He stared at the ground. Aslin, meanwhile, was expressionless. 

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.

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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.

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Reacting to the news in the UK, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Twitter: ‘I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine.

‘They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy. My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them.’

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘We have said continually that prisoners of war shouldn’t be exploited for political purposes. You will know that under the Geneva Convention prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and they should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.

‘So we will continue to work with the Ukrainian authorities to try and secure the release of any British nationals who were serving in the Ukrainian armed forces and who are being held as prisoners of war.’

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)

‘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.

Stephen Doughty MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Europe, 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.

‘The international law of armed conflict must be upheld at all times. The FCDO must urgently support the families of these soldiers who will be in deep distress at this time.’

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

RIA news agency said Sunday that the investigation found Aslin had taken part in ‘the armed aggression of Ukraine to forcibly seize power in the republic for a reward.’

‘The criminal case was sent to court, the first hearing will be held soon,’ it noted. 

The announcement from the DPR Prosecutor General’s Office, which was posted to Telegram, said Mr Aslin had 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.

‘Taking into account wartime, on the basis of the provisions of the current main law, according to the results of the trial, the mercenary may be assigned an exceptional measure of punishment – the death penalty,’ the statement said.

Aslin had previously travelled to Syria in 2015 to fight for the Kurds in a western-backed alliance against ISIS, and he made headlines on his return to the UK in 2016 when he was arrested and charged with terrorism offences. All charges were dropped.

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.

After being arrested in the UK a second time trying to return from Syria via Greece, Aslin moved to Ukraine after falling for Diane.

Having heard about the 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.

However, his unit surrendered to the invaders two days ago after they ran out of supplies and ammunition following 48 days of conflict in and around the besieged port city. 

Pinner, meanwhile, is a former Royal Anglian soldier originally from Bedfordshire. He also fought alongside Ukrainian resistance fighters. He had moved to Ukraine four years before joining Ukrainian marines.

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 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

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

In footage shared by Ria Novosti on social media on Wednesday, a translator can be heard asking Mr Aslin if he would ‘plead guilty’ to an offence, to which he replied: ‘Yes.’

Ria Novosti reported yesterday that the charge carries a term of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment with restriction of freedom for a term of one to two years or life imprisonment. 

The video appeared to show the two Britons in the dock in the pro-Russian territory’s supreme court alongside a third man, reported to be Mr Brahim.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Office condemned the exploitation of prisoners of war for political purposes in the wake of the footage being released, and said it was working with the Ukrainian government on the issue of British captives.

Jenrick said Wednesday Mr Aslin should be returned home at the earliest opportunity, possibly through a prisoner exchange.

The MP condemned the ‘trumped-up charges’ faced by both Britons and accused Russia of a ‘completely outrageous breach of international law’.

Pinner is a former Royal Anglian soldier originally from Bedfordshire

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

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.

The fiercest fighting is now focused on Severodonetsk in the Lugansk region, where Ukrainian officials say their outgunned forces are still holding out amid street battles despite the city being mostly under Russian control.

The regional governor of Lugansk – also part of the Donbas – said Western artillery would quickly help secure a Ukrainian victory for the bombarded city.

‘As soon as we have long-range artillery to be able to conduct duels with Russian artillery, our special forces can clean up the city in two to three days,’ governor Sergiy Gaiday said. 

People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, May 2

A view of the destruction of the city of besieged Mariupol in Ukraine on March 26

In his evening address to the Ukrainian people on Wednesday, Zelensky said the battle for the city was ‘probably one of the most difficult throughout this war.

‘In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there.’

Up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed every day in frontline fighting and as many as 500 wounded, Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said.

The city of Lysychansk, which is separated from Severodonetsk by a river, is still in Ukrainian hands but under fierce Russian bombardment.

After being repelled from Kyiv following their February 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops have refocused their offensive on the Donbas.

Pro-Russian separatists have held part of that region since 2014.

Moscow, which has repeatedly warned the West against getting involved in the conflict, said it had targeted a Ukrainian training centre for ‘foreign mercenaries’ in the Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv.

The Ukrainian presidency said four people were killed in a Russian air strike on Toshkivka, a village around 14 miles south of Severodonetsk.

Four more people were killed in fighting in Donetsk and shelling killed two in the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, it said. Another person was killed in the Mykolayiv region in the south.

The war’s shockwaves are spreading around the world. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added his voice to increasingly dire warnings.

‘For people around the world, the war is threatening to unleash an unprecedented wave of hunger and destitution, leaving social and economic chaos in its wake,’ he said.

Zelensky on Thursday called for Russia to be expelled from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), blaming Moscow for ‘causing hunger’ and spurring the global grain crisis by invading his country.

TIMELINE: 100 days of war in Ukraine

Russia invaded Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, setting off the worst conflict in Europe in decades.

As Russia extends its grip over the east, we look back on 100 days of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and reduced entire cities to rubble.

February 24: Russia invades – Russian President Vladimir Putin announces a ‘special military operation’ to ‘demilitarise’ and ‘de-Nazify’ the former Soviet state and protect Russian speakers there.

A full-scale invasion starts with air and missile strikes on several cities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pledges to stay in Kyiv to lead the resistance.

February 26: Massive sanctions – West adopts unprecedented sanctions against Russia and offers Ukraine military aid.

Air spaces are closed to Russian aircraft and Russia is kicked out of sporting and cultural events.

February 27: Nuclear threat – Putin puts Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, in what is seen as a warning to the West not to intervene in Ukraine.

February 28: First talks – During the first peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow, Russia demands recognition of its sovereignty over Crimea, the ‘demilitarisation’ and ‘de-Nazification’ of Ukraine and a guarantee Ukraine will never join NATO. Ukraine demands a complete Russian withdrawal.

March 3: Kherson falls – Russian troops attack Ukraine’s south coast to try to link up territory held by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine with the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula.

On March 3, Kherson in the south becomes the first city to fall. Russian forces relentlessly shell the port of Mariupol.

March 4: Media crackdown – Russia passes a law punishing what it calls ‘fake news’ about its offensive – such as referring to its ‘special military operation’ as an invasion – with up to 15 years in prison.

March 16: Mariupol theatre razed – Russian air strikes raze a Mariupol theatre killing an estimated 300 people sheltering inside. Moscow blames the attack on Ukraine’s nationalist Azov battalion.

March 16: Zelensky lobbies Congress – Zelensky tells the US Congress to ‘remember Pearl Harbor’ and lobbies Western parliaments for more help.

April 2-3: Horror in Bucha – After a month of fighting, Russia withdraws from northern Ukraine, announcing it will focus its efforts on conquering the eastern Donbas region.

On April 2 and 3, Ukrainians find dozens of corpses of civilians scattered on the street or buried in shallow graves in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, which Russian forces had occupied.

Moscow dismisses accusations of Russian war crimes, saying the images of the bodies are fakes.

April 8: Train station carnage – A rocket attack on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk kills at least 57 civilians being evacuated from Donbas.

April 12: Biden speaks of ‘genocide’ – Biden accuses Russia of ‘genocide’, saying Putin appears intent on ‘trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian’.

April 14: Flagship sinks – Ukrainian missiles hit and sink Russia’s missile cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea, a major setback for Moscow.

May 11: $40 billion in US aid – US lawmakers back a huge $40-billion package of military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

May 16: Kharkiv retreat – Ukraine says its troops have driven Russian forces back from the outskirts of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, to the Russian border.

May 18: Sweden, Finland apply to NATO – Finland and Sweden apply to join NATO, reversing decades of military non-alignment because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

May 23: First war crimes conviction – A Ukrainian court finds a 21-year-old Russian soldier guilty of war crimes and hands down a life sentence for shooting dead a 62-year-old civilian in northeastern Ukraine in the opening days of the war. He has appealed.

May 21: Battle for Mariupol ends – Russia declares it is in full control of Mariupol after Ukraine ordered troops holding out for weeks in the Azovstal steelworks to lay down their arms to save their lives.

Nearly 2,500 soldiers surrender and are taken prisoner by Russia.

May 30: EU bans most Russian oil – EU leaders overcome resistance from Hungary to agree a partial ban on most Russian oil imports as part of a sixth wave of sanctions.

The deal bans oil imports delivered by tanker but allows landlocked countries such as Hungary to continue receiving Russian oil by pipeline.

May 31: Russia seizes part of eastern city – Russian troops seize part of the key eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, its governor says. Taking the city would give Russia de-facto control over Lugansk, one of two regions that make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland. 

July 3: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its 100th day. Britain’s defence ministry said Moscow has failed to achieve its initial objectives to seize Kyiv and centres of government but is achieving tactical success in the Donbas.

Reporting by AFP

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