Three Britons have pleaded not guilty to mercenary charges at a Russian-backed separatist court in Ukraine.
John Harding, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy, are among a group of five European men on trial in a court administered by Kremlin-backed separatists in the city of Donetsk.
Mr Harding, Croatian Vjekoslav Prebeg and Swedish citizen Mathias Gustafsson, who were captured in and around the port city of Mariupol, could face a possible death sentence under the laws of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
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All five men pleaded not guilty to charges of mercenarism and “undergoing training to seize power by force”, Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported.
The next court hearing in their case is scheduled for October, the Interfax news agency reported, citing a statement by the separatists’ court.
Mr Healy, 22, who was in Ukraine as an aid worker was seized at a checkpoint south of the city of Zaporizhzhia in April alongside fellow British national Paul Urey. Mr Hill, a military volunteer, was also captured in April by Russian forces.
However, Mr Harding had been fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region since 2018 before he was captured.
Originally from Sunderland, Mr Harding appealed for help from Boris Johnson last month after being told he could be handed a death sentence.
In June, the Donetsk authorities sentenced to death two Britons, Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, and Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, accused of being mercenaries.
They were all captured by Russian forces while fighting in Ukraine and all three have appealed against their verdicts.
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Ukrainian social media has been speculating that the Kremlin may seek to use the foreign fighters to extract concessions from Ukraine or swap them for Russian prisoners.
Foreign governments have declined to negotiate with the Donetsk People’s Republic, one of two Russian-backed entities that have controlled parts of east Ukraine’s Donbas region since 2014, citing its internationally recognised status as part of Ukraine.