Three captured Ukrainian soldiers including Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner have been sentenced to death by pro-Russian officials in Donetsk after being captured while fighting in Mariupol with the Ukrainian army. Many in the international community have condemned the convictions as sham verdicts in a communist era “show trial.”

SOFREP reported on their capture in April, where Aslin had been paraded on Russian media, echoing Russian propaganda possibly against his will. He was seen to have various injuries in the videos while reading what seemed to be a prepared statement. Pinner was also paraded on Russian media, where he asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to exchange him and Aslin for pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who was captured by Ukrainian forces.

Both Aslin and Pinner aren’t new to Ukraine. Aslin originally comes from Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, England. He was engaged with a Ukrainian national and was reported to be serving with the Ukrainian military as a marine since 2018, reportedly part of the 36th Marine Brigade, one of the units that held out against the Russians in the Azovstal Iron Works and Steel Plant. He holds Ukrainian citizenship. Pinner is a former British soldier from Bedfordshire (some say Watford). He moved to Ukraine four years ago as he married a Ukrainian and had also been serving under the 36th Marine Brigade.

Along with the Britons was Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim. Saaudun, a Moroccan student, was captured earlier in March in Volnovakha.

All three of them were charged with “terrorism,” though they were captured in uniform as soldiers serving Ukraine’s government, entitling them to treatment under the Geneva Convention as Lawful Combatants.  The two Britons were tried as mercenaries and not as active-duty soldiers, adding the additional charge of being a mercenary. While Russia is a signatory of the Geneva Accords, the Russian invention of the government of the Republic of Donbas is not a recognized government and therefore could not sign the accords, even if it wanted to.

None of the men meet the accepted legal standard of being mercenaries or terrorists simply by fighting for Ukraine in uniform as ordinary members of their armed forces.

Saaudun may also be a Ukrainian citizen, as his father told Moroccan newspaper Madar 21. However, we cannot determine at this time whether he was really part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces or not.

All three men pleaded guilty to all charges against them. The complete list of charges levied on the men included terrorism, committing a crime as part of a criminal group, “being a mercenary,” the promotion of training in terrorist activities, and forcible seizure of power. The trial’s footage was shared on the Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti. They were reportedly not allowed to defend themselves and present any evidence countering the Russian claims against them, leaving many from the international community to accuse the trials of being a sham.

The three men now face the death sentence through execution by firing squad. Aslin, Pinner, and Brahim, all of whom were situated behind metal bars of a courtroom, showed no emotion as each took turns standing up to show that they understood the sentence that had been levied on them. However, the three men were told that they had a month to appeal the decision, which could let them off the death penalty to just 25 years to life in prison.

The two Britons indicated that they understood the sentence. Aslin and Pinner were observed to have lost a tremendous amount of weight but showed no current signs of physical abuse.

In defense of the death penalty, Judge Alexander Nikulin stated that he had been guided by the unshakable principle of justice when giving the death sentence to the three men.

“It was that which made it possible to take this complex and difficult decision to apply an exceptional measure of punishment in the form of the death penalty,” he said.

Needless to say, the British Government was not happy with the trials, with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemning it. “I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine,” she said.

“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.”

The conservative chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee was also infuriated with the separatist so-called Supreme Court decision, referring to the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic as “not a state” and “not a court” with its judges merely dressing up as judges and pretending to be impartial.

“These men are prisoners of war. The charges against them are a violation of their rights – Russia is using them as hostages.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, through his spokesman, stated that they were “deeply concerned” about the trials.

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

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

These trials are seen as revenge for the Ukrainian Government prosecuting Russian soldiers for war crimes. The 21-year-old Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin was found guilty of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man. Shishimarin said his superiors ordered him to shoot the man as they were worried he would report their position away. Two more Russian soldiers, Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov pled guilty to “violating the laws and customs of war” as they shelled the Kharkiv region from Belgorod. Russian soldier Mikhail Romanov is also to be tried in absentia after being identified as the soldier who killed a Ukrainian man and raped the man’s wife.

When Aslin and Pinner were captured Russia offered to exchange them immediately for Pro-Russian politician and close Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk, who was captured by Ukrainian forces early in the war. Medvedchuk was considered a Putin crony and was central to aiding Russia in the initial separatist war in 2014. The offer was rejected. These death sentences may be leverage for Russia to still get him released.

These war crime trials from both sides will continue as both countries try to gain the upper hand against one another. While Ukrainian trials were more orderly as the Russian soldiers could defend themselves with a court-appointed lawyer and be guided by former international criminal court judges, the Russian trials were cruder, with the Ukrainian soldiers not being able to defend themselves.