A Moroccan and two Britons are at risk of death penalty in Donetsk

The Prosecutor's Office has concluded that the three prisoners of war fought as mercenaries in Ukraine
REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH - Insignia se muestra en el uniforme de un combatiente extranjero del Reino Unido mientras se preparan para partir hacia la línea del frente en el este de Ucrania tras la invasión rusa, en la estación principal de tren de Lviv, Ucrania

REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH  -   Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, thousands of foreign fighters have joined the ranks of the Ukrainian army.

Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim and Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner could face the death penalty after being charged with "terrorism" and fighting in Ukraine as "mercenaries", according to prosecutors in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

At a trial this week, the culprits admitted part of their guilt. According to the Russian news agency RIA, Brahim and Pinner pleaded guilty to actions aimed at the violent seizure of power, while Aslin admitted to a lesser charge related to weapons and explosives. The two Britons also admitted to "training to carry out terrorist activities".

The prosecutor's office of the pro-Russian separatist region concluded that the prisoners of war fought as mercenaries on Ukrainian territory, something that none of the three have acknowledged, according to EFE news agency.

The death penalty is one option facing the prisoners of war. Other sentences being considered include a prison term of 15 to 20 years or life imprisonment, according to RIA. 

Britons Pinner and Aslin, aged 48 and 28 respectively, were captured in Mariupol in April while fighting alongside the Ukrainian army, of which they had been part for years. The Moroccan Brahim, meanwhile, was serving in the Ukrainian ranks after signing a contract in March, according to the Arabic media Alyaoum24. During his interrogation, Brahim also claimed that he was studying at the Polytechnic Institute in Kiev.

However, other sources deny his work as a soldier, claiming that the young Moroccan worked in the army as a translator due to his command of Russian, English, French and Arabic, as reported by the Libyan portal AfrigateNews. The website also notes that the student's father appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to release his son, as well as to international human rights associations to help free him.

Relatives of the British prisoners are also fighting for the release of Pinner and Aslin, stressing that they were not volunteers or mercenaries, but were officially serving in the Ukrainian army. Pinner has been living in the country since 2018 and has a Ukrainian wife, as he told Sky News, while Aslin joined the national armed forces in the same year. Like his compatriot, he hopes to start a family in the country, as he is engaged to a Ukrainian woman. Years earlier, Aslin joined a Kurdish militia to fight Daesh in Syria.

In mid-April, shortly after being captured in the port city of Mariupol, Pinner and Aslin asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be exchanged for Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian businessman and politician captured by Ukrainian forces that same month. However, according to Europa Press, Moscow has not received any news or request from the British authorities for the exchange or extradition of the British fighters.

In addition to Pinner and Aslin, another British citizen, Andrew Hill, 35, has been captured by Russian troops in Mykolaiv.

The Ukrainian authorities have also started trials against Russian soldiers accused of war crimes. Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was the first to be sentenced to life imprisonment by a Kiev court since the invasion began. Shishimarin pleaded guilty to the murder of a 62-year-old unarmed civilian in Sumy. Two other Russian soldiers, Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, were sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for shelling a town in eastern Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian Prosecutor's Office has also announced the first trial for sexual assault during the war. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on social media that Russian serviceman Mikhail Romanov will be tried for sexual violence against a woman and the murder of her husband.