LONDON (Reuters) -Two Britons have been charged with "mercenary activities" by investigators in a Russian-backed separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine, the Russian state news agency TASS reported on Friday.
TASS cited a source in the power structures of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), recognised only by Russia and Syria, as saying criminal cases had been opened and charges filed against Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill under Article 430 of the DPR criminal code.
It said both men were refusing to cooperate.
Westerners have been travelling to Ukraine, either to help defend it against the Russian invasion or to help provide humanitarian aid to the millions of Ukrainians whose lives have been upended.
On April 29, Russia's defence ministry released a video showing an injured British man captured in Ukraine, who said his name was Andrew Hill and who spoke with a British accent, being questioned by unidentified Russian forces.
The ministry said he had surrendered to Russian troops in the Mykolaiv region of southwestern Ukraine, at least 80 km (50 miles) to the west of the DPR, and had been carrying a weapon.
The captured man, who was wearing a camouflage uniform, told his questioners that he was from Plymouth in southern England and had four children and a partner.
Also on April 29, Britain's BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-61268817 quoted the non-profit relief group Presidium Network as saying that Dylan Healy was a humanitarian volunteer and had been detained at a checkpoint in southern Ukraine along with another volunteer, Paul Urey.
Last month, two Britons and a Moroccan were sentenced to death for "mercenary activities" after being captured fighting for Ukraine against Russia and Russian-backed forces, in what Western politicians decried as a show trial.
Their relatives say they were contracted to fight for the Ukrainian army, and therefore were not mercenaries but regular soldiers entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war.
TASS reported on Friday that the DPR Supreme Court had received appeals from lawyers for Brahim Saadoun and Shaun Pinner, but that the other Briton, Aiden Aslin, had yet to submit an appeal.
TASS cited the court as saying the appeals would be considered within no more than two months.
It said Pinner had asked for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.
An updated DPR criminal code published on an official website that took effect on Friday says the death penalty will start being used from 2025.
It is unclear what this means for the three men. The DPR, unlike Russia, has had capital punishment on its statutes since 2014, but had no legislation outlining how to enforce it until now.
Britain has declined to deal publicly with Russian proxy authorities in the DPR that it does not recognise, preferring to ask Kyiv for assistance. Russia has said the men's fate is a matter for the DPR.
Two Americans - Alexander Drueke, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Huynh, from Hartselle, Alabama - have been shown on videos aired by Russian state media, which said they had been captured by separatist forces while fighting for Ukraine.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Leslie Adler)