UKRAINE says it is ready to swap Russian prisoners of war to secure the release of hero fighters Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner.
Expats Aiden, 28, and Shaun, 48, were captured after running out of ammo during the brutal siege of Mariupol.
They were convicted of being illegal mercenaries in a sham trial by Putin’s proxies in the occupied Donetsk region.
Ukraine says they were soldiers who should be protected as prisoners of war under international law.
And last night the country’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, suggested they will be freed in a prisoner swap deal with Russia.
In return Putin could demand the release of a number of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politicians who have been detained for alleged spying.
“It will be a swap,” Mr Prystaiko told BBC News.
“The important question is what will be the price for this, because the Russians were talking about some Ukrainian MPs being swapped for them, especially for those who, I now understand, were working for them for all these years.”
The ambassador added Aiden and Shaun “have contracts with the armed forces, they lived in Ukraine before, so they are legitimately there.”
He said: “We expect Russians to remember that these are our people, and should be treated as prisoners of war – the same way we are treating Russians who are in our captivity.”
It comes after Boris Johnson ordered ministers to do “everything in their power” to ensure the release of the two Britons.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace both spoke to their Ukrainian counterparts yesterday.
Ms Truss said the court’s judgment was “an egregious breach of the Geneva convention”.
Sources the government will “leave no stone unturned”.
But UK diplomats are wary of directly challenging Russia over the issue, fearing they would hand Putin a huge propaganda victory, the BBC reports.
They also cannot negotiate with authorities in Donetsk because Britain does not recognise it as a legitimate state.
Instead they are focused on helping Ukraine secure the safety of its legally recognised POWs.
And a source told The Daily Telegraph: “It’s really important that we don’t give the Russians any ammo to paint these guys as mercenaries.”
Analysts say the Kremlin hopes to drag Britain into a war of words so they can claim the West is sending saboteurs to attack Russians.
Yesterday we told how Aiden and Shaun had rung the Sun news desk on a satellite phone with scripted please to beg for their lives.
Shaun’s mum Denise Price, 65, who also got a call, said: “It seems he is being used for propaganda.”
The two men were also allegedly tricked into confessions after being promised lighter sentences.
Robert Jenrick, MP for Newark where Aiden’s family lives, said he wants to see both men brought back to their families, “probably by a prisoner exchange”.
But he added that Russia appears “to be in no hurry to progress these prisoner exchanges”.
Shaun is a former Royal Anglian soldier from Bedfordshire, and Aiden is a former care worker from Newark, Notts.
Both men had lived in Ukraine since 2018 and were professional salaried soldiers in the country’s 36th Marines.
Journalists were not allowed into their fast-track trial, and all the news from the court came via Russian state media.
They were seen in a metal cage on a Telegram video alongside Moroccan fighter Saaudun Brahim, 21, who was also sentenced to death.
Today Shaun’s family said they are “devastated and saddened at the outcome of the illegal show trial”.
They added: “As a Ukrainian resident for over four years and contracted serving marine in the 36th Brigade, of which he is very proud, Shaun should be accorded all the rights of a prisoner of war according to the Geneva Convention and including full independent legal representation.
“We sincerely hope that all parties will co-operate urgently to ensure the safe release or exchange of Shaun.
“Our family, including his son and Ukrainian wife, love and miss him so much and our hearts go out to all the families involved in this awful situation.”
It is reported Aiden’s mum Ang Wood found out about the death sentence while watching TV news.
Aiden’s family said after the verdicts: “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.”
All you need to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Everything you need to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine…
Observers have described the charges as “fabricated” and the trial as a “demonstrative” attempt to imitate the trials of Russian soldiers for war crimes in Kyiv.
Downing Street says the UK government is “deeply concerned” at the death sentences.
Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the foreign affairs committee, branded the act a “war crime” and a “barbaric violation” of the Geneva Convention.
“Its not a state, its not a court, and the judges are people merely dressing up and pretending,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“The reality is this is an absolutely brutal thing to do to three completely innocent people.”
Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said the sentencing was “nothing else but a violation and mockery of international humanitarian law and international human rights law obligations of Russia as an occupying power via proxies”.
Help those fleeing conflict with The Sun’s Ukraine Fund
PICTURES of women and children fleeing the horror of Ukraine’s devastated towns and cities have moved Sun readers to tears.
Many of you want to help the five million caught in the chaos — and now you can, by donating to The Sun’s Ukraine Fund.
Give as little as £3 or as much as you can afford and every penny will be donated to the Red Cross on the ground helping women, children, the old, the infirm and the wounded.
Donate here to help The Sun’s fund
Or text to 70141 from UK mobiles
£3 — text SUN£3
£5 — text SUN£5
£10 — text SUN£10
Texts cost your chosen donation amount (e.g. £5) +1 standard message (we receive 100%). For full T&Cs visit redcross.org.uk/mobile
The Ukraine Crisis Appeal will support people in areas currently affected and those potentially affected in the future by the crisis.
In the unlikely event that the British Red Cross raise more money than can be reasonably and efficiently spent, any surplus funds will be used to help them prepare for and respond to other humanitarian disasters anywhere in the world.
For more information visit https://donate.redcross.org.uk/appeal/disaster-fund