The Prime Minister has pledged that ministers will do “everything in their power” to secure the release of two British men sentenced to death for fighting Russian forces.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also raised the issue with her Ukrainian counterpart as the Government comes under pressure to ensure their release.
The Cabinet minister will discuss the “sham judgment” issued by a Russian proxy court against Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner during a phone call with Dmytro Kuleba on Friday.
Mr Aslin, 28, from Nottinghamshire, and Mr Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire - who are being held in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) - have been accused of being mercenaries.
Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim also faced the same accusation and has also been sentenced to the death penalty.
The men say they were serving with regular military units in Mariupol and so should be protected as prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention.
What were the men accused of?
However, news agency RIA Novosti have reported on Thursday (9 June): “The Supreme Court of the DPR passed the first sentence on mercenaries- the British Aiden Aslin and Sean Pinner and the Moroccan Saadun Brahim were sentenced to death, RIA Novosti correspondent reports from the courtroom."
A third British man, Andrew Hill, also faces charges after being captured in the Mykolaiv area, but his affiliation is unclear.
Interfax, a Russian news agency, claimed the men would be able to appeal against their convictions.
The BBC reported that Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner had appeared in what appeared to be a court dock in the pro-Russian territory on Tuesday (8 June), alongside Mr Brahim.
The men faced charges, including trying to “seize power”, at the court - which is not internationally recognised.
Footage of the men on Tuesday showed that they spoke only to confirm they were aware of the charges they faced.
Separatist president Denis Pushilin on Monday claimed “the crimes they committed were monstrous”, according to separatist news agency DAN.
How has the UK Government reacted?
Boris Johnson is “appalled” by the death sentences handed to Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and has ordered ministers to do “everything in their power” to secure their release.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was appalled at the sentencing of these men. He has been following the case closely and has asked ministers to do everything in their power to try and reunite them with their families as soon as we can.
“We completely condemn the sham sentencing of these men to death. There’s no justification at all for this breach of the protection they’re entitled to.”
On Friday Liz Truss tweeted: “Spoke with Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba to discuss efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war held by Russian proxies.
“The judgment against them is an egregious breach of the Geneva convention.
“The UK continues to back Ukraine against Putin’s barbaric invasion.”
It is understood the call with Mr Kuleba had been scheduled for a number of days, to discuss the UK’s support of Ukraine, but that Ms Truss would raise the case of the two detainees as Britain treads a diplomatic tightrope.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine.
“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.”
Government minister Robin Walker said dialogue with Russia is also needed after the “sham trial”.
He told Times Radio: “I think we need to do everything we can at a diplomatic level to make representations to Russia, to show our support to Ukraine, but also to show our support to the families of these people, and I understand that’s what my colleagues at the Foreign Office are doing.
A No 10 spokesman previously said: “We are obviously deeply concerned by this. We have said continually that prisoners of war shouldn’t be exploited for political purposes.
“Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and they should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.
What have family members said?
Relatives of Mr Aslin, one of three men accused of being mercenaries for Ukrainian forces, said on Tuesday that they are working with the Foreign Office and Ukrainian government to try and get him home.
In a statement released through the Foreign Office on Tuesday, they described the 28-year-old as a “much-loved man and very much missed”.
And in a statement to the Newark Advertiser, Mr Aslin’s family said: “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 governments 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.”