Kremlin Political Prisoner Oleksandr Kolchenko joins Oleg Sentsov in a hunger strike equivalent to suicide:
Crimean civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, imprisoned in the same “absolutely Stalinist trial” as filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, has gone on hunger strike, demanding that Russia free Sentsov. Kolchenko suffers from arrythmia and is desperately thin, making the move, in his lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina’s words, “equivalent to suicide”. News of Kolchenko’s decision came on the 18th day since Sentsov began his indefinite hunger strike which he has vowed he will not end until Russia frees all its Ukrainian political prisoners. He is fully aware of the dangers, and has said that if he dies before or during the World Cup, which Russia is hosting, his death should serve to help free the others.
Russia is illegally imprisoning both men as far from their homes and family as Russia’s vast expanses allow, and their mothers and Oleg’s two children must be going through hell. As Larisa Kolchenko says, there is no sense in expecting mercy or compassion from Russia.
Kolchenko announced his hunger strike on 31 May, but he had clearly been thinking about it for some time. Sidorkina visited him in at the Chelyabinsk prison on 22 May. Kolchenko knew and was concerned about Sentsov’s hunger strike and said that he had sent two letters, one to Oleg himself, one to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to intervene on Sentsov’s behalf and to release all Ukrainian political prisoners.
Kolchenko was justifiably sceptical that the censor would allow the letters through and therefore asked Sidorkin to pass on the content of the letter to Sentsov. He had written to Oleg that “he regards a hunger strike as an effective way of upholding your position only in a country that cares about its reputation”. In Russia, however, even the death of Sergei Magnitsky (the Russian lawyer tortured to death in a remand prison) had changed nothing and had only resulted in Russia passing the shocking ‘Dima Yakovlev’ law that prevented Russian orphans being adopted abroad. Kolchenko therefore feared that Sentsov’s hunger strike would be simply ignored, and that they would force-feed him or even incarcerate him against his will in a psychiatric hospital.
He told Sidorkina that he saw Sentsov’s indefinite hunger strike as a serious threat to his life and health, however he fully supported Sentsov’s demand for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners. If necessary, he had said then, he “was ready to support Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike”.
Sidorkina had been very anxious in visiting Kolchenko that he might decide to join Sentsov’s hunger strike. Kolchenko is terribly thin, and even the Russian prisons where he has been held over the last four years have put him on special diets for that reason. The danger to his health of a hunger strike is therefore extremely real and immediate.
Sentsov’s lawyer, Dmitry Dinze confirmed on 29 May that Sentsov has agreed to some kind of ‘supportive therapy’, but will only find out what this entails when he sees him on 4 June. Sentsov has refused all calls, however, for him to abandon his hunger strike.
Kolchenko and Sentsov were seized in Russian-occupied Crimea in May 2014, together with two other opponents of Russia’s annexation of their homeland – Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy.
All four men were held incommunicado for up to three weeks, first in Simferopol (Crimea), then in Moscow, almost certainly to hide the signs of the torture they were subjected to.
On 30 May, Russian TV showed the ‘confessions’ of Afanasyev and Chyrniy and the Russian FSB asserted 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.
Kolchenko was convicted on August 25, 2015 of ‘involvement in a terrorist organisation (Article 205.4 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code) and of taking part in a firebomb attack on the offices of the United Russia party in Simferopol (Article 205 § 2a).
Sentsov had reported from as soon as he first saw a lawyer that he had been tortured with the FSB threatening not only rape, etc., but also that he would be designated ‘the mastermind’ of their plot and would get 20 years if he didn’t give them the testimony they wanted.
There was no evidence against Sentsov at all. Kolchenko had never denied the firebomb incident during which he had held guard on the street while a Molotov cocktail was thrown at night into the deserted office of a pro-Russian organization which helped Russia seized control of Crimea. Identical attacks in Russia, however, are treated as hooliganism, and normally get suspended sentences.
There was no evidence of ‘terrorism’ at all, with the suggestion that Kolchenko, a committed left-wing anarchist, could have joined a right-wing ‘Right Sector plot’ especially absurd. could
The prosecution’s case was based solely on confessions obtained from Afanasyev and Chirniy while they were held incommunicado and without lawyers. During the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko, Afanasyev took the stand and stated that all previous testimony had been untrue and extracted through torture.
The FSB had imposed a regime of virtually total secrecy until the trial of Kolchenko and Sentsov began in the summer of 2015. It became clear from Day 1 that the prosecution had no real evidence and on 5 August 2015, the Memorial Human Rights Centre declared both Kolchenko and Sentsov political prisoners.
Despite the lack of any evidence, the refusal by Chyrniy to give testimony in court and Afanasyev’s retraction of his testimony, ‘judges’ Sergei Arkadyevich Mikhailyuk, Viacheslav Alexeevich Korsakov and Edward Vasilyevich Korobenko from the Rostov Military Court sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in a maximum security prison and Kolchenko to 10.
Russia is also claiming that Kolchenko and Sentsov ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens. Both have rejected this, and an application with the European Court of Human Rights has been lodged on Kolchenko’s behalf.
Please write to Oleksandr (Sasha) Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov!
It is best not to mention the hunger strike, their ‘cases’ or politics at all. The letters should not weigh more than 100 g and it would be good to give a return address since they will probably want to reply.
Only letters in Russian are accepted unfortunately. If this is a problem, please just cut and paste the following, perhaps with a nice photo.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.
Just cut and paste the addresses with the men’s name and year of birth .
Letters to Oleksandr Kolchenko
РФ, 456612, Челябинская обл., Копейск, ул. Кемеровская, 20.,
Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р.
[Russian Federation, 456612, Chelyabinsk obl., Kopeisk, Kemerovskaya St, 20
Kolchenko, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, 1989]
Letters to Oleg Sentsov
РФ, 629400 Ямало-Ненецкий автономный округ, город Лабытнанги, улица Северная 33.
Сенцову Олегу Геннадьевичу, 1976 г.р.
[Russian Federation, 629400, Yamalo-Nenetsky autonomous okrug, Labytnangi, Severnaya St, 33
Sentsov, Oleg Gennadievych, b. 1976]