Sent to Siberia for Opposing Russia’s Annexation of Crimea
Photo: Anton Naumlyuk
UPDATE: It was reported on Feb 8 that Oleg Sentsov has in fact been sent to Yakutia, in the very Far East
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko have been moved from Rostov, dashing the flickering hope that the Kremlin was already considering an exchange of the two political prisoners. The two Ukrainian nationals, whose release is demanded under the Minsk Agreement, are being sent very far from their native Crimea and their lawyers – Sentsov to the Irkutsk oblast in Siberia, Kolchenko - to the Chelyabinsk oblast east of the Urals. The journey itself is grueling, lasting several days or longer.
The men were moved on Thursday, Feb 4, this coinciding with ato the OSCE Permanent Council calling for their release, together with that of Nadiya Savchenko and other Ukrainians unlawfully held in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea. The statement pointed out that all such cases “raise serious concerns about Russia’s respect for the rule of law and its international obligations and commitments.”
Everything about the imprisonment and trial of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko is reminiscent of Soviet terror, not a modern democratic country, and it is no accident that Russian human rights defenders called it an “absolutely Stalinist trial” and“ideologically-motivated state terror” against opponents of Russian occupation of Crimea.
Sentsov, Kolchenko and two other Crimeans who opposed Russia’s invasion and annexation of their homeland – Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy - were arrested in May 2014, and held incommunicado for weeks before being taken to Russia. There, on May 30, the FSB or Russian Security Service claimed that they had been involved in a ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’. There was nothing to indicate any presence of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector in Crimea, and the idea that Kolchenko, who is a committed left-wing anarchist would have taken part in a far-right movement’s ‘plot’ was absurd.
There was no evidence of ‘terrorism’ against any of the four Ukrainians;
There are serious grounds for believing that all were subjected to torture;
There was almost total secrecy about the case before the trial, with the men’s lawyers prohibited from saying anything about it;
All are Ukrainians and were illegally taken from Crimea to Russia with the latter claiming that they have ‘automatically’ become Russian nationals;
The Memorial Human Rights Centre has condemned the trials and recognized Sentsov, Kolchenko and Afanasyev as political prisoners
39-year-old Sentsov is not only a world-renowned Ukrainian filmmaker and Euromaidan activist, but also the father of two young children. It is almost two years since they last saw their father, who is now being moved to a prison in Siberia. Sentsov has consistently spoken of the torture he was subjected to and the threats that if he didn’t ‘confess’ to whatever they demanded, he would rot in a Russian prison. The FSB ‘investigators’ specifically threatened to increase the charges if he didn’t ‘cooperate’. He remained unbroken and was charged with being the mastermind of a ‘ultranationalist Right Sector terrorist group’ and planning various ‘terrorist acts’.
There were no specific charges, nor anything directly incriminating him in any offence, terrorist or otherwise. There was also nothing to link him with Right Sector.
Kolchenko was charged with taking part in the supposed ‘terrorist plot’, and with one specific offence – of taking part in an ‘arson attack’ on the office of the United Russia political party in Simferopol. The said attack involved throwing one Molotov cocktail at the offices late in the evening when nobody would be there.
Kolchenko has never denied his role in this, but does not agree that this was ‘terrorism’. In this he is supported by, among others, Memorial HRC which points out that similar acts in Russia have not been called ‘terrorism’, and have received sentences many times less.
Gennady Afanasyev took the stand in court on July 31, 2015, with the FSB investigators having told him to refuse to testify and simply confirm his written testimony. Instead he found the courage to retract all previous testimony as given under torture, and later described the torture in detail. After initial threats of reprisals against both Afanasyev and his mother failed, the FSB ensured that the young man was sent to the far north where he is constantly subjected to unwarranted punishments and is denied medical treatment (See also: New reprisals against Crimean political prisoner Afanasyev & his lawyer)
The court ignored the lack of any evidence against Sentsov and Kolchenko, the absurdity of the charges and Afanasyev’s retraction of his testimony and on August 25 last year sentenced Sentsov to 20 years, Kolchenko to 10 years.
The arrests, the trial and now Sentsov and Kolchenko’s move just before the first anniversary of the Minsk II Agreement demonstrate the Kremlin’s contempt for agreements it has endorsed and international law.
Please write postcards or letters to all four men. If you can write in Russian, do, but avoid any discussion of the case or politics. If not, the following would be fine (cut and paste the words in Russian, and the same below with the addresses)
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним. Держитесь!
Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten. [The last word is like ‘hang in there’)
You can send your letters to post.rosuznik[at]gmail.com, a civic initiative helping to get mail to Russian-held political prisoners They will deal with writing the envelope and sending it on. Just cut and paste the names as given below (the year of birth after their name is required by the prison service),
By email: post.rosuznik[at]gmail.com
OR: send by post to : Афанасьеву Геннадию Сергеевичу, 1990 г.р. - 167028, Республика Коми, г. Сыктывкар, п. Верхний Чов, ИК-25
Сенцову Олегу Геннадиевичу, 1976 г.р. post.rosuznik[at]gmail.com
Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р. post.rosuznik[at]gmail.com
Чирнию Алексею Владимировичу, 1981 г.р. post.rosuznik[at]gmail.com