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 would like to be a nail in the tyrant’s coffin. This nail will not bend.

Halya Coynash
Imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has written a powerful letter from Russian captivity in which he rejects attempts to free him and others at any price, saying instead to "use us as a weapon"

A letter has arrived from Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov almost exactly a year after the ‘absolutely Stalinist trial’ in a Russian military court of Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko ended in 20- and 10-year sentences.  More about their persecution below, but first his powerful letter.

“I am spending a third year in a Russian prison.  This is the third year that war is being waged against my country.  The enemy is fighting in a dirty manner, furtively, pretending that they have nothing to do with it.  War is never nice, but the truth is nonetheless on our side.  We did not attack anybody; we are defending ourselves.

As well as this, main enemy, whom we all know and who is from outside, there are others also. They’re smaller-fry, but they’re inside, here, under the skin, they’re almost our own. Yet they are not for us, they’re for themselves. Some have remained from the old times, some simply want to live as they did before, but under a difference face. It won’t work.  That greater [enemy], and these smaller fry have different goals, however we are on a different road. And I won’t say that we’ll see who beats whom.  I already know who will win. You cannot stop the struggle for freedom and progress.

There are a lot of us in captivity in Russia, and even more in Donbas.  Some have already been released, others are waiting and hoping.  Each has their own story, their own conditions. Some of the prisoners are seeking publicity, others are really working. Trying to become more well-known in order to be exchanged more quickly than others – that’s not a road I want to take. I don’t want to claim more for myself. I would like to remain simply a name in the overall list. They probably won’t suggest that I’m freed last, yet that would be a good choice.

Here, in captivity, we are restricted.  Not even freedom – that they can’t take away, but in the fact that there’s so little we can do for the country. More exactly, there’s only one thing we can do – hold firm.   There is no need to get us out at any price – that won’t bring victory any nearer. Use us as a weapon against the enemy – that yes.  Be aware that we are not your weak point.  If it’s intended that we become the nails in the coffin of the tyrant, then I would like to be such a nail.  Just remember, that this nail will not bend.”

Oleg turned 40 on July 13 in the Yakutia oblast prison where the Kremlin sent him to keep him as far from the public eye, from the media and foreign diplomats as possible. 

He, Kolchenko and two other opponents of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea – Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chirniy – were arrested in May 2014.  They were held incommunicado in Simferopol and tortured, then taken illegally to Russia where the FSB claimed that Sentsov had masterminded and the others had taken part in a ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’.

There was no evidence at all, only the videoed ‘confessions’ of Chirniy and Afanasyev.  On July 31, 2015, despite already being in a Russian prison and likely to face reprisals for his courage, Afanasyev stood up at the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko and stated clearly that any confessions had been extracted through torture.  He retracted all his testimony and later, when he was finally given a real lawyer, described in detail the torture he had been subjected to.

His account is totally in keeping with the allegations made from the beginning by both Sentsov and Kolchenko of torture. 

There was almost total secrecy about the case before the trial, with the men’s lawyers prohibited from saying anything about it.  Both Sentsov and Kolchenko were recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre within days of the trial beginning when the lack of any grounds for the charges could no longer be concealed.  Afanasyev was also declared a political prisoner after his appearance in court. 

There were constant attempts to deny that the men were Ukrainians and to foist Russian citizenship on them.  These appear to still be continuing.

In his final address to the ‘court’ on Aug 19, 2015 Sentsov spoke of cowardice being the greatest sin in this world, with that including personal betrayal.  Both he and Oleksandr Kolchenko have, from the outset, remained true to themselves and unbroken.  Sentsov’s steadfast refusal to ‘cooperate’ with the FSB, despite all the torture and threats, was the reason that he was accused of having ‘masterminded’ the non-existent ‘terrorist plot’.

In that address Sentsov asked what “convictions are worth if you aren’t ready to suffer for them, or even to die, ” and spoke of the big betrayals that all too often begin with small acts of cowardice.

He asked for nothing from the court, saying that an occupiers’ court cannot, by definition, be just. 

He had had over a year by that stage to see how Russian propaganda was working.  He could see that the majority of the Russian population had been conned into believing that there were fascists in Ukraine, enemies of Russia everywhere, but that Russian President Vladimir Putin was great, and Russia never wrong.

There were, however, others who knew very well the scale of the lies, that his native Crimea had been annexed illegally and that Russian troops were fighting in Donbas. 

Some had opted for betrayal, others, however, a third smaller part of the population, were fearful because there were so few of them and they could be easily thrown in prison or killed.

“We also had a criminal regime, but we rose up against it.  They didn’t want to listen to us, so we beat on rubbish tin lids.  They didn’t want to see us, so we set tyres alight and in the end we won.

The same, sooner or later, will happen in your country.  I don’t know what form it will take and I don’t want to see anyone suffer. I simply want you to stop being ruled by criminals.”

After being interrupted by the judge, Sentsov added just one more wish – that this third part of the population should learn how to not be afraid.

Please write to Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko and to all the prisoners Moscow is holding in Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea!  

The letters need to be in Russian.  If that is a problem, you could copy-paste the brief message suggested, maybe with photos, pictures, etc. 

It is Independence Day on August 24 and we are asking people to send sunflowers (pictures!) to all the prisoners.  Please see the text here for suggested messages, addresses and, of course, photos of sunflowers!

Send a Sunflower for Independence Day to Russia’s Ukrainian Hostages

The addresses for Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are also below, with a kind of general letter unrelated to Independence Day, if you prefer.

Even just a word or two will send an important message to the men themselves, and to Moscow, that they are not forgotten!

Добрый день,

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 Oleg Sentsov

677004,  Республика Саха (Якутия), г. Якутск, ул. Очиченко, 25, ФКУ ИК-1

Сенцову Олегу Геннадьевичу, 1976 г.р.

Letters to Oleksandr Kolchenko

(please enclose light-weight paper and an envelope, so that he can reply)

Россия 456612, Челябинская обл., Копейск, ул. Кемеровская, 20.,

Кольченко Александру Олександровичу, 1989 г.р.


Photo: Sergei Pivovarov, RIA Novosti

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