war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Oleg Sentsov: I’m sorry that Russia is so shaming itself

A Day in Solidarity with imprisoned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov was held on May 11, the first anniversary of his official detention (he was in fact taken into custody the previous evening). Sentsov is facing ’terrorism’ charges that by no means only he considers politically motivated and fabricated. Despite this, both he and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing sentences of up to 20 years

A Day in Solidarity with imprisoned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov was held on May 11, the first anniversary of his official detention (he was in fact taken into custody the previous evening). 

The Kyiv cinema Lira an held a special evening in which they showed Sentsov’s film Gamer and fragments of a documentary entitled “Free Oleg Sentsov” by Askold Kurov and Andriy Litvinenko.  A skype conference was also planned with Sentsov’s sister Natalya Kaplan and Kurov, who are both in Moscow where Sentsov is held in the Lefortovo SIZO [remand prison]. 

As reported here, the documentary will include brief expressions of support and calls for Sentsov’s release from a number of world-famous film directors, members of the European Film Academy and others (see below for just some examples).

Like numerous human rights organizations, including Memorial, Sentsov’s colleagues in the film industry are convinced that the charges against him, of masterminding a ‘terrorist plot’ are absurd.  He and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing sentences of between 17 and 20 years, effectively for refusing to ‘confess’ under pressure and ‘cooperate’ with the investigators.

At a court hearing on May 6 Sentsov’s detention was extended by another 2 months, to July 11.  A similar court hearing is scheduled regarding Kolchenko on May 13.

At the court on May 6, Sentsov said he had now read through five volumes of material and found no evidence in it to substantiate the charges against him. He considers his detention unlawful, with both it and the investigation in general being politically motivated and fabricated. It cannot be viewed separately from the situation that is unfolding now in Crimea, he stressed.

“I consider that the Russian Federation unlawfully annexed Crimea, unlawfully arrested me, brought me to a Russian court and is unlawfully putting me on trial. I am very sorry that the Russian Federation is allowing such actions and is so shaming itself – through its actions both in Ukraine, and with respect to Crimeans, and everything. I am extremely ashamed of that, of the fact that I am myself a Russian (100% - my parents are from the Urals). I am simply a citizen of Ukraine, I love my country, I love Russia. I am very sorry to see what is happening at present in this country, in our countries and specifically in this courtroom.

I very much hope that sooner or later the regime existing in your country …”  (he was stopped from continuing by the judge).

During a recent court hearing, Oleg Sentsov said that a 20-year sentence had been determined at the outset. He was not, however, afraid, and said that “the regime of the bloody runt [lit: dwarf] will end first”

Four men were arrested in May 2014, all of them open in their opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  Sentsov has reiterated from the outset that he was arrested on May 10 and insists that the claim by the investigators that he was detained a day later is aimed at concealing the initial period of time when torture was applied in an attempt to force a ‘confession’ from him.

Both Sentsov and Kolchenko say that they were tortured, and give considerable detail.  All four men were held incommunicado for some time, which would allow obvious signs of physical pressure to disappear.  The two other men arrested, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy ‘confessed’.  Afanasyev appears to have agreed to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators from the beginning, with this cooperation entailing testifying against Sentsov.  He was tried in a secret court hearing in December and received the minimum sentence under terrorism charges of 7 years.  Chirniy appears to have taken much longer to decide to cooperate, but in April he too was reported to have agreed to work with the investigators.  He too was tried and sentenced to 7 years.

The problem still remains that there was no terrorism and the one act which Kolchenko is accused of and admits – of hurling a Molotov cocktail at the empty office of the United Russia party – should not, even under Russia’s broad definitions of terrorism and ‘extremism’, warrant anything more than charges of hooliganism.

As reported, on May 30, 2014, the FSB announced that Sentsov, Kolchenko, Afanasyev and Chirniy were members of a Right Sector ‘diversionary terrorist group’.  Their main aim, the FSB claimed, was to carry out ‘diversionary-terrorist’ acts in Simferopol; Yalta and Sevastopol, and in the last of these to destroy a number of buildings, railway bridges and power lines.

The FSB asserted that the men had planned to detonate home-made explosive devices during the night before Victory Day near the Eternal Flame and near a monument to Lenin.   They were also accused of arson attacks on a pro-Russian organization’s building on April 14 and the United Russia offices on April 18. 

The report on May 30 asserted that searches of the men’s homes had found the following: ‘explosive substances; firearms; ammunitions; canisters with inflammatory liquid; construction masks (similar to those used during the disturbances on Maidan); respirators; gas masks; aerosol cans with paint; nationalist symbols, etc.”

The announcement coincided with reports on pro-Kremlin television showing ‘confessions’ given by Afanasyev and Chirniy. 

The charges have since been considerably watered down, to the point where in no case would there be real elements of terrorism, even were the ‘confessions’ to be genuine.

This has not deterred court after court from allowing applications for the men’s continued detention, nor from convicting the two men who chose to cooperate with the prosecution of the same charges as reported at the outset.  As with the ongoing imprisonment of Nadiya Savchenko, it is not in the courtroom that an end to this parody of justice can be put, but in the Kremlin. 

Halya Coynash

Some of the addresses from Sentsov’s colleagues

Mike Downey         

Krzysztof Zanussi    

Agnieszka Holland   

Marina Razbezhkina

Pavel Bardin           




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