Who are Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, the Britons sentenced to death in Russian-occupied Ukraine?

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 (Sky News)
(Sky News)

Two British soldiers captured by Russian forces while fighting for Ukraine have been sentenced to death by pro-Moscow rebels, provoking condemnation from ministers and the Ukrainian government.

Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were convicted of taking action towards “violent seizure of power” at a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Both men were captured in Mariupol in April after their unit surrendered after holding off Vladimir Putin’s forces for 48 days.

A third man, Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, was also convicted of the same offence. All were accused of being “mercenaries” by the DPR – who provided no evidence for the claim.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss “utterly condemned” the sentencing on Friday, insisting the judgment had no legitimacy and the pair should be treated as prisoners of war.

But who are Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner, and how did the situation arise?

Who is Aiden Aslin?

Mr Aslin originally hails from Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire and at the time of his capture was a member of a Ukrainian military unit fighting in Mariupol.

The former care worker reportedly joined the Ukrainian military in 2018, going on to qualify as a private in the 36th Marine Brigade.

He has a Ukrainian fiance and holds both British and Ukrainian citizenship.

Mr Aslin fought in Syria against Islamic State (IS) alongside the People’s Defense Units (YPG), Kurdish armed units between 2015-17.

In mid-April, he was captured in the besieged southern city of Mariupol while fighting alongside Ukrainian troops.

Jake Hanrahan, a friend of Mr Aslin and a journalist, said in April that he was “not a mercenary”.

He said: “He has been a full member of the Ukraine Marines for 5+ years now.

“He’s done all the training etc. He didn’t join recently. He lives in Ukraine and plans to stay there with his fiancé.”

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.

“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.”

His family released a statement earlier this week calling for his release.

"We are currently working with the Ukrainian government and the Foreign Office to try and bring Aiden home,” they said.

“Aiden is a much-loved man and very much missed, and we hope that he will be released very soon."

Before his capture, he had been tweeting updates on the Russian invasion from the account @cossackgundi.

Who is Shaun Pinner?

Mr Pinner, originally from Watford, moved to Ukraine four years ago with his Ukrainian wife.

The former waste manager went on to join the country’s armed forces and helped to clear mines and unexploded ordnances, according the Guardian.

He signed a military contract several years ago with the Ukrainian defence ministry and, like Mr Aslin, served with the 36th Marine Brigade.

In a statement, Mr Pinner’s family said he was “funny” and “much-loved”. He is said to have considered Ukraine “his adopted country” and “enjoyed the Ukrainian way of life”.

It read: “Shaun was a well-respected soldier within the British army serving in the Royal Anglian regiment for many years. He served in many tours, including Northern Ireland and with the UN in Bosnia.

“In 2018 Shaun decided to relocate to Ukraine to use his previous experience and training within the Ukraine military”, which means he is “not a volunteer nor a mercenary”.

How has the UK Government responded?

Boris Johnson has ordered ministers to do “everything in their power” to secure their release.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was appalled at the sentencing of these men.

“He has been following the case closely and has asked ministers to do everything in their power to try and reunite them with their families as soon as we can.

“We completely condemn the sham sentencing of these men to death. There’s no justification at all for this breach of the protection they’re entitled to.”

Meanwhile, Ms Truss said she had discussed “efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war held by Russian proxies” during her call with Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

“The judgment against them is an egregious breach of the Geneva Convention,” she added.

What has Russia said?

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov defended the convictions as being “guided by the laws of the Donetsk People’s Republic”, the breakaway state controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

“Because these crimes were committed on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, all the rest is speculation,” he told a press conference.

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