Boris Johnson today said he was “appalled” after two Britons were sentenced to death for fighting Russian forces.
The prime minister made the comments as the British government comes under increasing pressure to secure the release of Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48.
The pair, who were fighting with Kyiv’s forces, were convicted of taking action towards violent seizure of power at a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
A spokesman for the PM said the government was “supporting Ukraine” in its efforts to get the men released and reunited with their families “as quickly as possible”.
He said it was “clear” the men were Ukrainian armed forces members and therefore prisoners war, adding: “The prime minister was appalled at the sentencing of these men.
“He’s 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 protections which they’re entitled to.”
Foreign secretary Liz Truss also raised the issue with her Ukrainian counterpart today.
Aslin’s family have urged Britain and Ukraine to “do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely, and soon” as they insisted the two men “are not, and never were, mercenaries”.
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.”
There were concerns that making their case a bilateral issue between the UK and Russia would assist Moscow in its narrative that the men are “mercenaries” and therefore not entitled to protection under international law.
Britain argues that Aslin, from Newark in Nottinghamshire, and Pinner, from Bedfordshire, are members of the Ukrainian army and should therefore be treated as prisoners of war.
In a statement to the Newark Advertiser, 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.”
A third man, Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, was convicted alongside Aslin and Pinner.
The men were accused of being “mercenaries” after fighting with Ukrainian troops.
The court where they were sentenced, which is not internationally recognised, is in the pro-Russian so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
Interfax, a Russian news agency, claimed the men would be able to appeal against their convictions.
Aslin and Pinner were both members of regular Ukrainian military units fighting in Mariupol, the southern port city which was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tory former minister Robert Jenrick, who represents the constituency where Aslin lived, called for the Russian ambassador to the UK to be summoned to the foreign office.
It comes after a friend of Aslin said the death sentences will “invigorate” those still resisting Russia’s advances.