Donetsk capital punishment: who is John Harding, does he face death penalty, Russia court in Ukraine explained

John Harding was captured by Russian forces in Mariupol, while aid worker Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill are also facing charges
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Five men have denied mercenary charges at a Russian proxy court in Donetsk, with one British man facing the death penalty if convicted.

The Russian-backed seperatist court is in eastern Ukraine, with Russian state media confirming the court has charged the five men.

Among the group are British aid workers Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and John Harding, with Mr Harding possibly facing the death sentence.

All five have pleaded not guilty to the mercenary charges under the law of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

The next court hearing in their case is scheduled for October, the Interfax news agency reported, citing a statement by the separatists’ court.

John Harding faces the death penalty after having mercenary charges in Donetsk brought against him. (Credit: Mamuka Mamulashvili/Facebook)John Harding faces the death penalty after having mercenary charges in Donetsk brought against him. (Credit: Mamuka Mamulashvili/Facebook)
John Harding faces the death penalty after having mercenary charges in Donetsk brought against him. (Credit: Mamuka Mamulashvili/Facebook)

Who is John Harding? 

John Harding is a Sunderland-born man in his fifties who had been fighting in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine since 2018.

He was believed to have been captured by Russian forces in May 2022, after fighting alongside Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, when Ukrainian soldiers were forced to surrender.

Speaking previously to the BBC, Mr Harding said that he had originally travelled to Ukraine to fight in 2018 to lend his skills as a combat medic amid fighting between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

Following his capture, Mr Harding sent a video plea to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Does John Harding face the death penalty? 

Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported that Mr Harding faces the death penalty, alongside two other men.

This includes Croatian-born Vjekoslav Prebeg and Swedish-born Mathias Gustafsson, both of whom were also captured in Mariupol.

Mr Healy, 22, and Mr Hill, 35, do face mercenary charges, but do not face the possibility of the death penalty.

Mr Healy was captured alongside Cheshire aid worker Paul Urey as they attempted to rescue a woman and her children from the under-fire city of Zaporizhzhia in April.

Mr Urey, 45, is said to have died in detention, with Russian media reporting that he had died from medical complications.

Paul Urey, British aid worker in Ukraine who was captured by Russian forces, has reportedly died while in captivity. (Credit: PA)Paul Urey, British aid worker in Ukraine who was captured by Russian forces, has reportedly died while in captivity. (Credit: PA)
Paul Urey, British aid worker in Ukraine who was captured by Russian forces, has reportedly died while in captivity. (Credit: PA)

The trial of all five men is expected to take place in early October.

Dylan Healy.Dylan Healy.
Dylan Healy.

What is the Donetsk People’s Republic? 

While internationally recognised as a part of Ukraine, Donetsk is a breakaway area near the border between Ukraine and Russia which is currently under Russian seperatist control.

Upon the beginning of the Russian invasion in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk independent from Ukraine.

He added that Russian forces were moving in to “liberate” Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian residents from Ukrainian persecution, after fighting had continued since 2014.

With the area now under Russian control, the Donetsk courts are prosecuting those fighting against Russia.

Foreign Ministries have declined to negotiate with the DPR, as many do not recognise it as a separate state from Ukraine.

The Croatian Foreign Ministry said: "Croatia dismisses the indictment and does not consider it to be founded and legal because it is opposed to international law and international conventions on the treatment of detained civilians and prisoners of war."

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the charges against the men a “sham judgement with absolutely no legitimacy”.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesman said previously: "We are supporting the family of a British national and are concerned by his detention.

"We condemn the exploitation of detainees for political purposes and have raised this with Russia. We are in constant contact with the government of Ukraine on their cases and are fully supportive of Ukraine in its efforts to get them released."

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