Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko arrived home to scenes of jubilation on Wednesday after her release by Russia in a prisoner swap and she promptly offered to fight again for Kiev in its conflict with pro-Russian separatists.
Savchenko’s handover, in return for two Russian prisoners – had been demanded by the West and was cast as a humanitarian gesture by Russian President Vladimir Putin a few weeks before the European Union decides whether to extend sanctions against Russia imposed over its support of the rebels.
Savchenko, 35, emerged from the terminal at Kiev’s Boryspil airport to cries of “hero” from a crowd of supporters, among them her sister and mother.
“Huge thanks for fighting for me. I thank everyone who wished me well. Thanks to you I survived. To those who wished me ill, I survived despite you!” she shouted.
“I can’t revive the dead, but I am always ready to lay down my life on the battlefield for Ukraine. And I will do everything possible for every person in captivity to be freed.”
She was captured in 2014 while fighting with Ukrainian forces against pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Russian state television showed the two Russians handed over by Kiev, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, descending the steps of an aircraft after it touched down at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport.
The pair – who told Reuters in an interview last year that they were Russian special forces soldiers captured while on a secret mission in eastern Ukraine – were embraced on the tarmac by their wives.
As part of the exchange deal, which could help ease tensions between Russia and the West, they received official pardons from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.