A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine earlier this month sentenced two British prisoners, Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, to death for fighting on Ukraine’s side.
Aslin, from Nottinghamshire in central England, told relatives that DPR officials also told him that British authorities had made no attempt to negotiate his release.
His grandmother, Pamela Hall, said Ashlin’s arrest was a “nightmare” for his family who spoke to him on Wednesday (UK time).
“There are no words, there are simply no words. It must be everyone’s worst nightmare to threaten a family member this way,” Hall said.
“Eden was extremely upset when he called his mother this morning. The bottom line is that Aiden said the DRC told him that no one from the UK had contacted him and that he would be executed.
“I have to believe what Aiden told us, that if the DPR does not get an answer, then they will execute him. Obviously I hope that is not true.”
Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported earlier that Ashlyn, Piner and a Moroccan citizen arrested while fighting for Ukraine, Brahim Saadoun, would face firing squad. They had a month to appeal.
The separatist side claimed that the three were “mercenaries” who were not entitled to the usual protection provided to prisoners of war.
They are the first foreign fighters to be convicted by Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels.
British Foreign Secretary Luz Trouse has called the verdict a “false decision with absolutely no legitimacy”.
The spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Jamie Davis, said that under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war were entitled to immunity as fighters.
The families of Aslin and Piner said the two men were longtime members of the Ukrainian army.
Both are said to have lived in Ukraine since 2018.
The three men fought alongside Ukrainian troops before Pinner and Aslin surrendered to pro-Russian forces in the southern port city of Mariupol in mid-April and Saadoun was captured in mid-March in the eastern city of Volnovakha.
Another British fighter captured by pro-Russian forces, Andrew Hill, is awaiting trial.
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The Russian military has argued that foreign mercenaries fighting on the Ukrainian side are not fighters and will have to face long prison sentences, at best if arrested.