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Nadezhda Savchenko calls on Russians to defy regime

Nadezhda Savchenko, jailed over deaths of two Russian journalists, returns to Ukraine after prisoner swap.

Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko has called on citizens of Russia to "raise themselves from their knees" shortly after being freed from Moscow following a two-year imprisonment for her role in the conflict against pro-Russian rebels.

Savchenko said on Wednesday that if Russians wanted peace with Ukraine, they had to defy the government.

"I want to say hello to the Russians and to say that there is nothing to fear," she said at a joint news conference with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko shortly after landing in Kiev.

"Of course Russia is not the country where it is easy to raise from the knees, but if they want to live in agreement with us, they have to raise from their knees."

Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned her as part of a swap for two Russian servicemen jailed in Ukraine.

Poroshenko sent his plane to pick up Savchenko in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia and bring her home to Kiev, where she received a hero's welcome.

Savchenko apologised to those who died fighting for Ukraine that she was still alive and pledged to help other Ukrainian fighters jailed in Russia to gain freedom.

"I apologise that I am still alive and I am always prepared to sacrifice my life," she said.

Savchenko was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and sentenced in March to 22 years in prison for her alleged role in the deaths of two Russian journalists in the conflict zone. Her refusal to bend after nearly two years in Russian custody has made her a national hero in Ukraine.

The two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured last year. They acknowledged being Russian officers, but the Russian defence ministry claimed they had resigned from active duty.

They were tried in a Kiev court, which sentenced them to 14 years in prison after finding them guilty of "terrorism" and waging war in eastern Ukraine.

Savchenko's lawyers have refused to say whether she also filed for a pardon. However, suggesting that she did not, Putin said he decided to pardon her after the relatives of the killed journalists petitioned him to show mercy for Savchenko.

Her release came a day after Putin, Poroshenko and the leaders of France and Germany spoke by telephone about ways to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Western leaders had long been calling for Russia to free Savchenko.

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