26.02.2018 | Halya Coynash

Join in Solidarity with Oleg Sentsov & other victims of Russia’s occupation of Crimea

#26Solidarity, #FreeSentsov

It is four years since a huge pro-Ukrainian unity demonstration in Simferopol on 26 February 2014 foiled Russia’s plans for an illicit coup d’état.  It is an appropriate, yet poignant Day of Crimean Resistance given the huge price paid by the Crimean Tatar leaders and other Ukrainians who peacefully stood in defence of Ukraine on that day and later, after Russian forces and armed paramilitaries seized control of Crimea.  The list is long, but includes Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku and a number of Crimean Tatars active in the Crimea Solidarity movement which arose to help the ever-increasing number of political prisoners in Crimea and their families. 

They and others need our solidarity. 

Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberty and PEN America have initiated a global event entitled 26 Moments of Solidarity in support of Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and all the other Ukrainians whom Moscow is illegally imprisoning.  In Kyiv, an event will take place outside the Russian embassy at 12.00, but other acts of solidarity are planned also in other cities. 

It is hoped that others worldwide will add their events to demonstrate solidarity with men imprisoned for their support for Ukraine, for their faith or because they themselves helped those in need.

Sentsov was honoured with the PEN America / Barbey Freedom to Write Award in 2016, and PEN America will be holding readings, rallies and special events calling to #FreeSentsov on February 26.

In an immensely moving letter in response to the award, Oleg wrote:

“The last time I went to the Maidan, where people had already begun perishing, my mother said, “Why are you going there? You have two children!” I answered that it was precisely because of that that I was going there—I don’t want them to live in a country of slaves. We won then, but it proved not to be the end. And the struggle continues, but now without me. I’m in prison and like any prisoner it is very difficult for me to answer a simple childish question: “Daddy, when are you coming home?”

Oleg’s daughter is 15, his son two years younger.   They have not seen their father since May 2014. 

Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea were in grave breach of international law and the lawlessness has continued.  Since Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Russia needed to ‘defend’ Crimeans, and there was no evidence that anybody had been in danger, the FSB has since periodically invented ‘terrorism’ or ‘sabotage’ plots. 

Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other opponents of annexation – Hennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy – were seized in May 2014.  They were held incommunicado, first in Simferopol, then Moscow for three weeks, almost certainly in order to hide the most obvious torture marks.  

The FSB asserted on 30 May 2014 that the four men were members of a ‘Right Sector ‘terrorist’ plot who had been planning terrorist attacks on vital parts of Crimea’s infrastructure. It claimed, for example, that they were planning to blow up railway bridges, although there are none in Crimea. 

Sentsov has spoken of the torture he was subjected to from the outset.  He was told by the FSB that if he didn’t give the ‘testimony ‘ they demanded, that he’d get a 20-year sentence and “rot in prison”.

He was sentenced to 20 years, Kolchenko to 10.  For more details and addresses to write to the men, see:

Sentsov thrown into punishment cell & sent to the Far North because of protests demanding his release

There is no end to Russia’s violations, even of its own legislation.  The latter prohibits the prosecution of non-Russian citizens for something that happened on another country’s territory. 

Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz spent almost three years imprisoned on surreal charges related to the pro-Ukraine rally on 26 February 2014.  Although he was finally released in October 2017, seemingly as part of an arrangement with Turkey, five other Crimean Tatars are facing woolly and absurd charges linked with a demonstration over which Russia has no jurisdiction.

A number of Ukrainians have been abducted from Crimea or even Belarus, or illegally arrested in Russia.  In a significant number of cases, there is compelling evidence that the men were tortured. 

There are details about other prisoners below.  Please choose one or more, and write to the men.  Telling Moscow that the world is watching, helps keep them safe.

Safe is not enough, however, and your voices and help in passing on the details about their cases to journalists and politicians in your country can help put pressure on Russia to free them.

Other Ukrainian hostages

Mykola Shyptur – the first and most forgotten political prisoner held in Crimea

Ali Asanov, Mustafa Degermendzhy – now held under house arrest after around two years in detention, probably for refusing to give false testimony against Akhtem Chiygoz

Volodymyr Balukh

Jailed for three and a half years for the Ukrainian flag he refused to remove from his home.

 ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’

25 men, most Crimean Tatar, are accused of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful pan-Islamist organization which is legal in Ukraine.  They face huge sentences in what has been called a conveyor belt of repression. A number of them are human rights or civic activists, including from the initiative Crimea Solidarity.

‘Convicted’              Ruslan Zeytullaev ;  Ferat Saifullaev ; Rustem Vaitov ; Nuri Primov

Feb 11, 2016           Emir-Usein Kuku (a human rights activist); Muslim Aliev; Envir Bekirov and Vadim Siruk

April 18, 2016          Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov   

May 12, 2016          Enver Mamutov, Rustem Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov and Zevri Abseitov

Oct 12, 2016           Teymur Abdullaev; Uzeir Abdullaev; Emil Dzhemadenov; Aider Saledinov   Rustem Ismailov

Oct 11, 2017           Suleyman (Marlen) Asanov; Ernest Ametov;  Memet Belyalov; Timur Ibragimov; Seiran Saliev and Server Zekeryaev 

‘Tablighi Jamaat’

New religious persecution on charges of involvement in Tablighi Jamaat   Talyat Abdurakhmanov; Renat Suleymanov; Arsen Kubedinov;  Seiran Mustafaev 

’Saboteur’ charges

August 2016            First ‘Crimean saboteur plot’ 

Yevhen PanovVolodymyr PrysichRedvan Suleymanov and Andriy Zakhtei)  

November 2016       Second ‘Crimean saboteur plot’

Dmytro ShtyblikovOleksiy BessarabovVolodymyr DudkaOleksiy StohniyHlib Shabliy 

Leonid Parkhomenko, a long-retired Black Sea Fleet captain, arrested on Nov 24, 2016.  

August 2017            New ‘Crimean saboteur’ charges  Hennady Lymeshko 

February 2018         Kostyantin Davydenko arrested on ‘spying’ charges

Revenge for Euromaidan  Oleksandr Kostenko,  Andriy Kolomiyets

23 November 2017   The arrest was attempted of 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement Vedzhie Kashka.  Instead the FSB caused her death

Four men were arrested and remanded in custody on insultingly implausible charges which lseem aimed at trying to discredit the Crimean Tatar Mejlis: Bekir Degermendzhy; Kazim Ametov; Asan Chapukh and Ruslan Trubach

Other prisoners held in Russia

Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh  See in particular: Russia is placing tortured Ukrainian political prisoner’s life in danger

Valentin Vyhivsky 

Viktor Shur.

Serhiy Lytvynov 

Roman Sushchenko, journalist and Ukrinform correspondent in Paris             

Recently abducted and / or imprisoned in Russia

Oleksiy Sizonovych   

Pavlo Hryb

Oleksandr Shumkov

Roman Ternovsky

Mykola Semena (suspended two-year sentence, but subject to a two-year ban on any public statements, meaning he could also be imprisoned)

Two Ukrainian border guards were also abducted on October 3, and are now in Russian custody.   

It is very likely that Maxim Filatov, who was sentenced to six years in July 2016, should also be considered a political prisoner.

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