Two Britons in the Russian death row – mercenaries or Ukrainian patriots?

June 12,2022 131
Two Britons in the Russian death row – mercenaries or Ukrainian patriots?

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner are the two Brits who were convicted of being “foreign mercenaries” and partaking in “terrorist activities” and sentenced to death along with Moroccan national Brahim Saadoun (on the latter, see our previous story). The “trial” in a “court” of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” was held behind closed doors without any chance for the three to present any evidence to defend themselves. (Too many quotation marks but the “trial,” the “court,” and the “republic” itself are all sham although the looming execution is real.)

As it is, neither Aiden, 28, nor Shaun, 48, were mercenaries but were active-duty troops under regular contracts with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Both came to Ukraine and joined the Ukrainian army before the full-scale war with Russia erupted (and Aslin has recently even re-upped his contract for a fourth year). They were captured by Russian forces in April in Mariupol, and as regulars, are subject to protection by the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war. This fact made U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemn the sentence: “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.”

Aiden and Shaun also have in common that they decided to tie up their lives with Ukraine and Ukrainians, at least on the family level. Shaun married a Ukrainian, and before the full-scale invasion, they lived in their house in Mariupol just 15 kilometers from the line of contact. And Aiden was engaged to a Ukrainian teacher of English. He moved to Mykolaiv, and they were planning to wed this spring.

Aiden Aslin, born in 1994 in Newark, Nottinghamshire, was a care worker. From 2015-17, he fought in Syria against Islamic State. In 2018, he came to Ukraine to help the country in its smoldering war against the Russian aggressors and joined the 36th Separate Marine Brigade. He was sent to the frontline three times before the full-scale invasion.

As if anticipating the future “charges” against him, he once wrote on Instagram: “First, we are not mercenaries, we are paid and treated the same way as any Ukrainian. I have taken on the responsibility to protect the Ukrainian people and its citizens. Secondly, we are not military tourists, as some say. I have met many military tourists, and they do not stay long. I am serving for the fourth year, was one of the first British paratroopers in the Ukrainian Marines and I wear my beret with honor, one of the few foreigners.”

Shaun Pinner, born in 1974 in Bedfordshire, is a U.K. army vet with an impeccable record who served in the Royal Anglian Regiment. He participated in various missions, including those in Northern Ireland and with the UN in Bosnia. Shaun came to Ukraine in 2014 just after the Revolution of Dignity. He subsequently joined a Ukrainian brigade, clearing mines and unexploded ordnance as a sapper. In 2018, he relocated to Ukraine to use his previous experience and training within the Ukraine military. His contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine was to expire in late 2022.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday a month before the invasion, Shaun shared his reasons for fighting: “I am here defending my family and adopted city. Russia started this war. It’s funded by Russia and driven by Russia, but we will fight them, make no mistake about that.”

In the photo above: Aiden Aslin (left) and Shaun Pinner. Photo: Alamy, Twitter

Sources: Suspilne; The Guardian; and Politico.

Donate Subscribe to our news