Ukraine war: PM orders ministers to do 'everything in their power' to help free Britons on Russian death row

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered his ministers to do "everything in their power" to secure the release of two Britons captured by Russian forces while fighting in Ukraine and sentenced to death.

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner were captured in Mariupol in April during the intense fight for control of the port city and were accused of being mercenaries.

Both were found guilty of "mercenary activities and committing actions aimed at seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order of the Donetsk People's Republic" but their families maintain they were fighting legitimately as part of the Ukraine army and should be treated instead, as prisoners of war.

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Government minister Robin Walker condemned the procedure as being "an illegal court in a sham government".

Mr Johnson was said to be "appalled" by the sentences handed to them and has ordered ministers to do "everything in their power" to secure their release.

Explainer: Why are two Britons facing the death penalty?

A Number 10 spokesperson said: "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."

It comes as war rages on in Ukraine with fierce fighting ongoing in Severodonetsk, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned the world faces "an acute and severe food crisis and famine".

'You are not abandoned and will not be forsaken'

The rallying call from the prime minister came as Diana Okovyta, Mr Aslin's fiancee, travelled to London to try to campaign for his release.

And in an emotional social media post, she assured her partner that he was not "abandoned".

She said: "How I wish you knew you aren't forgotten, you're not alone, you are not abandoned and will not be forsaken.

"I hope that anyway deep down in your soul you know and feel it. I believe that soon in newspapers we will see pictures of you smiling."

The UK has not announced any plans to speak to Russian officials.

Key developments:

  • Boris Johnson 'appalled' at death sentences for Britons

  • 'Intense street to street fighting' in Severodonetsk

  • Zelenskyy famine warning over Russian blockade

Intense fighting in Severodonetsk as battle for Luhansk rages on

Fierce fighting continues in Ukraine's south and east as Russian forces attempt to take full control of the Luhansk region.

The city of Severodonetsk - seen as a key objective for Moscow and the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the region - has seen "intense street to street fighting", UK intelligence says.

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) said: "Russia is massing fires with its artillery and air capabilities, in an attempt to overwhelm Ukrainian defences."

It also said Moscow is using 1960s-era 5.5-tonne anti-ship missiles against land targets.

"Russia is likely resorting to such inefficient weapon systems because it is running short of more precise modern missiles, while Ukrainian air defences still deter its tactical aircraft from conducting strikes across much of the country", the MoD said.

World faces risk of 'acute and severe food crisis', Zelenskyy says

President Zelenskyy said stopping the Russian invasion is crucial for the whole world as he warned of the risk of famine.

"It is on the battlefields of Ukraine that the future rules of this world are being decided along with the boundaries of the possible," he told an event in Singapore by videolink.

He noted that Russia is blocking ports in the Black Sea and Azov Sea, keeping Ukrainian food exports from the world market.

"If ... due to Russian blockades we are unable to export our foodstuffs, the world will face an acute and severe food crisis and famine in many countries in Asia and Africa," he said.

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