A preliminary hearing in the trial of a Ukrainian officer charged in the deaths of two Russian journalists has started in Russia's south.

Russian investigators alleged that military pilot Nadezhda Savchenko was working as a spotter in eastern Ukraine and provided the coordinates for a mortar attack that killed the two Russian journalists in 2014. The deaths took place in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting Ukrainian forces.

She was captured by rebels and brought to Russia under murky circumstances, though Russian authorities say the Ukrainian crossed the border on her own and was lawfully detained on Russian soil.

Thursday's preliminary hearing is expected to set the trial date and consider a request of Savchenko's lawyers to hold the trial in Moscow, where the case would receive more publicity.