British fighters sentenced to death by Putin were 'forced to phone family and friends to demand release'

Brits Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28, are facing death sentences for fighting Vladimir Putin's Russia

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Two British fighters who were captured by Russian forces while fighting for Ukraine were reportedly forced to plead for their lives during scripted phone calls to relatives and UK journalists by Russian-backed separatists who are holding them captive.

48-year-old Shaun Pinner and 28-year-old Aiden Aslin were convicted of taking action towards violent seizure of power, and for conducting "terrorist activities" at a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

Conservative Minister Robert Jenrick condemned the trial as a "Soviet-era show trial".

Shaun Pinner, 48, stands during a hearing, following his capture in the siege of Mariupol
Shaun Pinner, 48, stands during a hearing, following his capture in the siege of Mariupol
28-year-old Aiden Aslin has been convicted alongside Mr Pinner of 'terrorist activities'
28-year-old Aiden Aslin has been convicted alongside Mr Pinner of 'terrorist activities'

The pair were captured during the siege of Mariupol, after signing up to fight for Ukraine's 36th Marine Brigade, and have since been sentenced to death by a firing squad.

Yesterday, Mr Aslin's family made a desperate plea to the UK and Ukrainian governments, to assist in the safe return of the pair to their home country.

Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin were coerced into telephoning family in the weeks prior to the sham court trial, The Sun reports.

The pair stated how they faced the death penalty unless the demands of their captors were met.

Mr Pinner's mum, Denise Price, said she received a phone call, which appeared to indicate the British fighters were "being used as propaganda".

His wife Larysa appeared outraged at the "absurdity and cynicism of this rotten and false event called a trial".

In a post via social media, she added: "We also understand that Russian propaganda uses this case to the fullest, and this circus will go on for a long time."

It's understood, Mr Aslin's mum Ang Wood, discovered her son's fate while tuning into the news at the family home in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are in discussions over the pairs fate
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are in discussions over the pairs fate

The 28-year-olds family met with officials at the Ukrainian Embassy in London on Thursday, demanding their son is "treated with respect" urging both governments to intervene.

A source from Whitehall has advised how this decision could escalate matters.

In a statement, the 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.

"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."

A friend of Mr Aslin believes his death sentence will spur fighters on the front line to continue their fight against Russian advances.

Brennan Phillips, an American former soldier who met Mr Aslin in Syria, and accompanied him in Ukraine said the judgement is a "provocation".

He added: "I think it will invigorate people more than anything".

In the interview with BBC Newsnight, Mr Phillips from Tennessee added: "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."

The former soldier said how “many people expected” Russia to pursue “the most provocative stance that they could take” – namely the death sentence.

“I do not believe that Sean or Aiden will be subject to the death sentence or anything like that,” he said.

“I do believe that their captivity under the Russians will be extended for a little bit, but I do believe wholeheartedly and I’m very confident that they will be released safely back to their families.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss criticised the ruling as a "sham judgement with absolutely no legitimacy", declaring that the men were being held as prisoners of war.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said the UK was working with Kyiv to try and secure the men's release, with Downing Street describing the Prime Minister as "deeply concerned".