Sentsov considers his solo release would be a “total failure” & calls for greater attention to Kremlin’s other political prisoners
Imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has expressed enormous gratitude for all the support he is receiving, but asked that attention be given to all Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners. He would view his release alone as “total failure”, his cousin, Natalya Kaplan has reported, after visiting Sentsov in the Arctic Circle prison where Russia is holding him. Sentsov has been on hunger strike since 14 May, with his demand absolutely clear: the release of all Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners.
This was Sentsov’s first visit from any member of his family since the end of his ‘trial’ in August 2015. He had earlier decided that visits made the imprisonment only harder, and Natalya says she understood why when it came time to say goodbye after the brief two-hour visit (seemingly through a glass barrier).
The visit now, however, was very important given the hunger strike that Sentsov has no intention of abandoning unless his legitimate demand is fulfilled.
Sentsov has aged greatly and lost a lot of weight. He currently weighs only 75 kilograms which is very little for a person of his height (1.9 m.). His condition was not as bad as Kaplan had feared, though the medical tests being taken are worrying.
There has been a particularly active campaign demanding Sentsov’s release since the beginning of his hunger strike. Russia’s imprisonment of a renowned Ukrainian film director on politically motivated charges made it inevitable that world attention would be focused on him. His fame and that attention have been an opportunity to highlight the fact that Russia is holding around 70 Ukrainians on politically motivated grounds, or for their faith.
The problem is when Oleg Sentsov’s release is treated as being the only objective, since this is categorically not the objective for which the Ukrainian filmmaker is risking his life.
Kaplan has passed on his request to Ukraine’s Human Ombudsman Ludmila Denisova, religious figures and independent doctors to try to visit other political prisoners.
Some of the prisoners urgently need to be seen by their own, or at least independent, doctors. They include Stanislav Klykh whose mental state has suffered enormously after the torture and psychotronic drugs used by the FSB to force ‘confessions’ to ‘crimes’ that he supposedly committed 23 years ago in Chechnya together with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsen Yatsenyuk and other prominent Ukrainian politicians. Probably the most urgent at the moment is the plight of Pavlo Hryb, a Ukrainian student who was just 19 when abducted by the FSB from Belarus and now imprisoned in a Krasnodar SIZO [remand prison]. The young man has suffered from a grave blood circulation disorder since early childhood and his detention, without medication and with no specialists able to treat him in the case of internal haemorrhaging, is placing his life in direct danger.
Four Ukrainian political prisoners are now on hunger strike, and it is only Russia that benefits when we do not highlight their demands and their specific medical and other needs.
In Volodymyr Balukh’s case, the Crimean occupation regime has not only ignored the 47-year-old political prisoner’s failing health after well over 100 days on full or (briefly) partial hunger strike, but has even put him through a second cynical ‘trial’. Balukh was sentenced on 5 July 2018 to a further three years (five years in total, counting the remaining two years of the first sentence) on overtly absurd charges of ‘disorganizing the work of the detention unit’ where he was being held (details here).
Oleksandr Shumkov declared hunger strike in solidarity with Sentsov on 24 May. He is currently on ‘trial’ in Russia, charged in all seriousness with alleged involvement, while in Ukraine, in the Ukrainian Right Sector party and specifically in protests against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Needless to say, this is all legal behaviour in Ukraine, and not something Russia can have any right to prosecute somebody for. Not even if they have been arrested in Russia, though in this case there are strong grounds for believing that Shumkov was abducted from Ukraine (details here).
He is to be tried for alleged ‘involvement’, while in Ukraine, in Right Sector, a Ukrainian organization which Russia has chosen to consider ‘extremist’ and banned
Emir-Usein Kuku has been on hunger strike since 26 June – his 42nd birthday, which he spent imprisoned in Rostov. The Crimean Tatar human rights activist is currently on ‘trial’ together with five other men from Crimea on fundamentally flawed charges of unproven involvement in a peaceful movement (Hizb ut-Tahrir) which is completely legal in Ukraine. Kuku himself has, like Balukh, faced harassment since Russia’s annexation of Crimea with the pretexts different, but the reason almost certainly his human rights activities (details here).
All the above are recognized by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners. So too is Nuri Primov, whose mother, Rayme Ceyityaya (Primova) has been on hunger strike since 19 June, demanding her son’s release. Rayme Primova is 68 and has only one kidney, so any such act is fraught with particular danger. She was hospitalized this week, after an ambulance needed to be called, but has expressed her determination to continue with the hunger strike.
There are, unfortunately, too many political prisoners held in Russia or occupied Crimea to be able to write about in one text. Please see the list below, and press the links for more information. Most of the men have small children, and all need our support, and help in ensuring publicity and resulting pressure on the Kremlin to release them.
Ukrainians held illegally in Russia or occupied Crimea