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U.K. Captives Told ‘Time Is Running Out’ to Stop Death by Firing Squad

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Supreme Court of Donetsk People's Republic/Handout via Reuters
Supreme Court of Donetsk People's Republic/Handout via Reuters

A British man sentenced to death by Russian proxies in occupied Ukraine has informed his family his execution is set to go ahead and “time is running out” to stop it.

“Aiden was extremely upset when he called his mother this morning. The bottom line is Aiden has said the DPR has told him nobody from the U.K. has made contact, and that he will be executed,” Pamela Hall, the grandmother of Aiden Aslin, told the BBC on Wednesday.

Aslin was captured by Russian forces amid heavy fighting in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol in April, and he, along with fellow British fighter Shaun Pinner and Moroccan fighter Brahim Saadoun, were sentenced to death following a three-day show trial in the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic.

All three men were dubbed “mercenaries” by Russian authorities and the local rulers in occupied Donetsk, despite the fact that under international law they should be recognized as prisoners of war for their official status as members of the Ukrainian military.

Aslin is said to have told his family that his captors claimed British authorities had abandoned him and made no attempt to secure his release, a claim that was contradicted this week by Russia’s own ambassador to the U.K.

Ambassador Andrei Kelin told Russian state media on Tuesday that British authorities had in fact reached out to Moscow regarding Aslin’s death sentence—but he said Russian authorities had refused to engage because the diplomatic note they sent was too “condescending” and “preachy.”

“There are no words, just no words. It’s got to be everyone’s worst nightmare to have a member of your family threatened in this way,” Aslin’s grandmother told the BBC of the situation.

“I have to believe what Aiden has said to us, that if the DPR don’t get some response then they will execute him. Obviously I hope that isn't true,” she said.

Aslin and the two other foreign volunteers face death by firing squad.

Hopes for negotiations to allow a prisoner swap that would save the three men have dimmed after Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed republic where the men are being held, said he saw “no basis” for such an exchange or a pardon.

Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk had initially told the three captives they had a month to appeal their sentence, but Pushilin claimed in comments to Russian media this week that the men have not yet filed any appeals ahead of the July 9 deadline.

British authorities have said they are working with Ukrainian officials on the men’s case, even as Russia has repeatedly tried to force them to engage with the leadership in occupied Donetsk, which is unrecognized by the international community.

The fate of Aslin, Pinner, and Saadoun has life-or-death implications for two other foreign volunteers captured by Russian forces in Ukraine, Americans Andy Huynh and Alexander Drueke.

Huynh and Drueke, both U.S. military veterans who joined Ukraine’s military as volunteers, were taken captive in the Kharkiv region this month after a reconnaissance mission went awry.

They quickly surfaced in Russian propaganda videos shared by state-run media outlets. The videos, which appear to have been heavily edited, show the two echoing the Kremlin’s grievances against the West and Ukraine.

The Kremlin has claimed not to know the men’s whereabouts, despite their frequent appearances in state-run media. Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, feigned helplessness in an interview with NBC News this week, claiming Moscow has “no right to interfere” in any court decisions against Drueke and Huyn in occupied Donetsk, even as he bashed them for shooting at “our military guys” and said they must be “punished” even if it means they get the death penalty.

Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, on Thursday demanded that American authorities stop allowing Ukraine to “recruit” its citizens for the war effort, warning that U.S. citizens fighting against Russian troops threaten to result in “unpredictable and grave international consequences.”

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