British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is "appalled" at death sentences handed to two British fighters captured by Russian troops in Ukraine, Downing Street said Friday as London pressed the case with Kyiv.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss spoke by phone with her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, and tweeted that the sentences were an "egregious breach of the Geneva convention".
The "supreme court of the Donetsk People's Republic," one of two self-proclaimed statelets in eastern Ukraine, ordered the death penalty for Aiden Aslin, 28, Shaun Pinner, 48, and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim after the three were accused of acting as mercenaries for Ukraine.
Russia's Interfax news agency said Thursday that the two UK citizens surrendered in April in Mariupol, a port city in southern Ukraine that was captured by Russian troops after a weeks-long siege.
"The prime minister was appalled at the sentencing of these men," Johnson's spokesman told reporters.
"We are clear that we are supporting Ukraine in its efforts to get these men released. It is clear they were Ukrainian armed forces members and are therefore prisoners of war," he said.
Both the Britons have been living in Ukraine since 2018 and signed up to fight when Russia invaded, according to UK media. Pinner is married to a Ukrainian woman, and Aslin is engaged to a local.
"They are not, and never were, mercenaries," Aslin's family said in a statement.
"We hope that this sentence will be overturned and beseech the governments of the UK and Ukraine to do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely, and soon."
In April, the two Britons were shown on Russian state TV, demanding Johnson negotiate their release. Pinner's Conservative MP Robert Jenrick demanded the Russian ambassador in London be summoned.
But the government is reluctant to engage bilaterally with Moscow, fearing that would reinforce the claim that the captured fighters were mercenaries.
During a trial that lasted three days, the men pleaded guilty to committing "actions aimed at seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order of the Donetsk People's Republic", Interfax said.