Family of Brits sentenced to death in Ukraine insist: 'They're not mercenaries'

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Watch: Two British soldiers captured by Russian forces sentenced to death

The family of a British man sentenced to death for fighting Russian forces in Ukraine have issued a heartfelt statement demanding he is treated "with respect".

Aiden Aslin, 28, from Nottinghamshire, and Shaun Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire, were sentenced to death in what is being branded a Russian show trial at a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Both men were members of regular Ukrainian military units fighting in Mariupol, the southern port city which was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

But the pair, who were convicted alongside Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, were accused of being "mercenaries".

Watch: Why are two Britons facing death penalty for fighting?

It is understood that Aiden Aslin's mum Ang Wood found out about the sentence while watching the TV news at the family home in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

A statement issued on behalf of his family said: "We've heard the news from Donetsk and need some time to take everything in.

"We love Aiden with all our hearts. He and Shaun, as members of Ukrainian armed forces, should be treated with respect just like any other prisoners of war.

"They are not, and never were, mercenaries.

Read more: Vladimir Putin mysteriously postpones marathon TV phone-in for first time in 18 years

"We hope that this sentence will be overturned and beseech the government's of the UK and Ukraine to do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely, and soon.

"We can only imagine what they are going through right now.

"This is a very upsetting development and we ask that our privacy is respected at this time."

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leaving Millbank Studios in London. Picture date: Wednesday May 18, 2022.
Liz Truss was due to speak to her counterpart on Friday about the situation. (PA)

The case was due to be raised by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss with her Ukrainian counterpart on Friday.

She said: "I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine.

"They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.

"My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them."

Britain argues that the man are members of the Ukrainian army and should therefore be treated as prisoners of war.

The Britons were pictured in what is being dubbed a 'sham trial'. (Reuters)
The Britons were pictured in what is being dubbed a 'sham trial'. (Reuters)

But concerns have been raised that making their case a bilateral issue between the UK and Russia would aid Moscow in its narrative that the men are "mercenaries" and therefore not entitled to protection under international law.

A No 10 spokesman said: "We are obviously deeply concerned by this. We have said continually that prisoners of war shouldn’t be exploited for political purposes.

"Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and they should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.

"So we will continue to work with the Ukrainian authorities to try to secure the release of any British nationals who were serving in the Ukrainian armed forces and who are being held as prisoners of war."

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 08 : People looks on a residential building damaged by shelling in Leninsky district of Donetsk, Ukraine on June 08, 2022, as Russian attacks continue. (Photo by Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Donetsk, Ukraine, where the trial of the two British men apparently took place. (Getty)

Tory former minister Robert Jenrick, who represents the constituency where Aslin lived, called for the Russian ambassador to the UK to be summoned to the Foreign Office.

Russian news agency Interfax has claimed the men will be able to appeal against their convictions.

Brennan Phillips, a friend of Aslin, said the death sentences would "invigorate" those still resisting Russia’s advances.

Phillips, an American former soldier who met Aslin in Syria and worked alongside him in Ukraine, said the judgment was a "provocation".

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, he said: "I think it will invigorate people more than anything.

"Whatever effect they thought they would have in this provocation, I don’t think that, and I don’t think it’s going to be well-received. And they did this as a provocation."

Tory MP Bob Seely, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, accused Russia of breaking international law.

He told the BBC: "I very much hope they are not killed quickly – they may be killed quickly as shock value.

"But if, as everyone expects, they are not then they will be held as a diplomatic tool and I think the bigger picture here – what is happening – is that the Russians are going to become increasingly aggressive as part of the indirect conflict against the Baltic republics, against the Poles, against the UK and others who are close to the Ukrainian government and are supporting the Ukrainians in the conflict."

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