Two British citizens and a Moroccan have been sentenced to death by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine for fighting on Ukraine's side.
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic found the three men guilty of working toward a violent overthrow of power, an offence punishable by death in the unrecognised republic.
They were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism, according to the official Russian news agency TASS.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the three — Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saaudun Brahim — are set to face a firing squad.
The separatists had claimed that as “mercenaries” they are not entitled to the usual protections afforded prisoners of war.
The three defendants will "appeal", the lawyer for one of the three men, Pavel Kossovan, told TASS.
According to TASS, Shaun Pinner and Brahim Saadoun had pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of "mercenarism" but acknowledged their participation in the fighting "aimed at the violent seizure of power".
In response, Aslin and Pinner’s families said that the men, who are both said to have lived in Ukraine since 2018, were “long-serving” members of the Ukrainian military.
"He is not, contrary to Kremlin propaganda, a volunteer, a mercenary or a spy. Aiden was planning for his future outside the army, but like all Ukrainians, his life was turned upside down by Putin's barbaric invasion," according to his family.
Pinner's family also explained that he was "neither a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serves in the Ukrainian army in accordance with Ukrainian legislation". He also moved to Ukraine in 2018 and married a Ukrainian.
The three fought alongside Ukrainian troops. Pinner and Aslin surrendered to pro-Russian forces in the southern port of Mariupol in mid-April, while Brahim did so in mid-March in the eastern city of Volnovakha.
Pro-Russian officials had hinted in recent weeks that captured Ukrainian soldiers, including those from the nationalist Azov regiment, could face trial and the death penalty.
A moratorium on the death penalty has been in force in Russia since 1997, but this is not the case in the two separatist territories in eastern Ukraine.
The United Kingdom said on Thursday it was "gravely concerned" after the announcement of the death sentence of two British fighters by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
"We reiterate that prisoners of war should not be exploited for political reasons," said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who pointed out that under the Geneva Conventions prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity.
Foreign policy chief Liz Truss denounced a "sham judgment without any legitimacy".
Another British fighter captured by the pro-Russian forces, Andrew Hill, is awaiting trial.
According to the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine (Lidu) which brings together foreign volunteers fighting with Ukraine, Hill is a “legionnaire who has a contract with the Ukrainian army” and not a mercenary.
It was not immediately clear whether the three men sentenced to death were members of the International Legion in Defense of Ukraine.
Four foreign volunteer soldiers, including a Frenchman, were killed fighting the Russian invasion in Ukraine, announced Lidu, the official body for foreign volunteer fighters.
Russia for its part claimed this week to have killed “hundreds” of foreign fighters in Ukraine since the start of its offensive on 24 February, managing according to it to stem the flow of newcomers.