Sentsov’s condition worsens amid unrelenting brutality to all of Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners
Lawyer Dmitry Dinze has confirmed a sharp deterioration in Oleg Sentsov’s condition which almost certainly explained his being taken to hospital on 28 September. The heart, kidney and liver problems are particularly worrying as Sentsov has had a heart condition since childhood, but are not in any way surprising after 143 days on hunger strike. Back on 11 September, Sentsov’s cousin Natalya Kaplan informed that he had also developed hypoxia, with the blood circulation system not able to properly provide oxygen to vital organs, in the first instance the heart and brain.
The doctors at the hospital have prescribed various medication, glucose and the supplement that he has been taking to keep his organs from failing for as long as possible.
They cannot continue functioning without sustenance indefinitely, and at present there is no sign of progress of ensuring even Sentsov’s release, let alone the release of around 70 Ukrainian political prisoners as Sentsov is demanding. Since 14 May when Sentsov began his hunger strike, the number of political prisoners has only increased.
Dinze was dismissive of the suggestion made by Novaya Gazeta’s Pavel Kanygin that plans were underway for the exchange of Sentsov for a motley trio of Russians either serving prison sentences on serious charges (Viktor Bout, Konstantin Yaroshenko) or in detention on spying charges in the USA (Maria Butina). He believes that the information may have been fed to the journalist by Russia’s FSB as what they would like to see, but that does not mean that this will become Russia’s official position.
Much more importantly, US State Department representative Barbara Ekker has already stated that this is out of the question. The USA, she said, does not exchange political prisoners for criminals.
The position is understandable, though it is likely that Turkey did just that when it helped secure the release of Crimean Tatar political prisoner Akhtem Chiygoz and fellow Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov, who had also been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. The two men were unexpectedly taken to Turkey on October 25, and it is very likely that they were exchanged for two Russian state-commissioned killers.
The problem is that Sentsov’s life and the lives of other political prisoners is on the line, and neither Putin nor his people are at all worried about other Russians imprisoned in Ukraine for fighting as military servicemen or as mercenaries against Ukraine in Donbas.
Putin spoke using the ransom language of a kidnapper back in December 2015 and nothing much has changed since then.
In Sentsov’s case, public attention is at least forcing the authorities to ensure that he is under proper medical supervision. The same is not true of many other Ukrainians, including Volodymyr Balukh, who has been on full or almost full hunger strike since March of this year, and whose life is also in immediate danger.
There are several political prisoners whose medical condition should, even by Russia’s standards, preclude their detention.
Of the four Crimean Tatars imprisoned on openly fabricated charges after the FSB ‘operation’ on 23 November 2017 that killed 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement Vedzhie Kashka, two are in dangerously bad health. 57-year-old Bekir Degermendzhy suffers from acute asthma. He has been forced to sit through detention hearings with an oxygen mask, and remains in the medical unit of the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] where the conditions are tantamount to torture even for younger men in good health. 65-year-old Asan Chapukh was finally hospitalized last week after attempting a hunger strike in protest at receiving no medical treatment despite critically high blood pressure and other alarming symptoms and a suspected micro-stroke soon after his arrest.
Pavlo Hryb, who was just 19 when abducted by Russia’s FSB in August 2017 and taken to Russia, remains in detention despite a life-threatening blood circulation illness, which could lead to fatal haemorrhaging at any time. He should certainly not be in detention at all, still less in a Krasnodar SIZO where the staff and even the local hospital would be unlikely to know what was required in an emergency (details here).
Journalist Mykola Semena, who received a suspended sentence in occupied Crimea last year for an article expressing his view that Russia’s occupation of Crimea should end, has been refused permission to seek urgently needed medical treatment in Kyiv.
The above are only some of the men whose health and/or life is being placed in danger for Russia’s propaganda war, waged in parallel with the military aggression that began with its invasion of Crimea in early 2014.
At least eight political prisoners have been imprisoned since before September 2014, and many are held in an information vacuum, with even letters often withheld. Valentin Vyhivsky was held incommunicado for many months after being seized and abducted from Crimea, and tortured into agreeing to admit to ‘spying’ charges. He has spent a major amount of the last four years in solitary confinement.
Virtually all the prisoners are held thousands of kilometres from their families and homes. Many have now not seen their children for years.
Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike for all of them. There are ways of increasing the cost to Putin of allowing Sentsov, Balukh or other prisoners to die. The West does have economic levers if they choose to use them. Up till now they have failed to use even diplomatic methods, with state visits to Russia, etc. seen this year on a scale unprecedented since Russia’s annexation of Crimea. There is a danger that the Council of Europe will change its rules on applying sanctions on 8 October. While this will supposedly not affect the sanctions now in place against Russia, the aim of the changes is believed to be in order to allow Russia to return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE]. The latter body has, like all international structures, demanded that Russia release Sentsov, Balukh, and all other Ukrainian political prisoners. All such demands will be seen to be hollow and meaningless if Russia gets its way while letting innocent men, the victims of its aggression against Ukraine, die.
There is a list of all political prisoners, with hyperlinks to brief information and addresses to write to here