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Fight Kremlin Lies with Facts about Imprisoned Ukrainian Filmmaker Oleg Sentsov

Halya Coynash

Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker, father of two and one of 44 people illegally held prisoner in Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea.  His trial and 20-year sentence in August 2015 were condemned as ‘ideologically motivated terror”, and his release has been demanded from the outset by all international organizations and democratic states.  The Kremlin’s repeated claim that Sentsov was given a fair trial and justly convicted of ‘terrorism’ are in stark conflict with the facts. 

Most succinctly 

Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years, as the FSB had threatened, on the basis solely of two men’s testimony, obtained while the men were held incommunicado and without lawyers.  One of the two (Gennady Afanasyev) stood up in court, at great risk to himself, and retracted all testimony, saying it had been extracted through torture.  The other (Oleksiy Chirniy) refused to testify in court, meaning he could not be questioned.


Sentsov was arrested on 10 May 2014, a day after Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy, and a week before the arrest of civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko.  The four Crimeans were linked only in their shared opposition to Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea. 

Russia claims that Sentsov was arrested on May 11, which clashes with Sentsov’s own testimony and the first reports of his arrest .  The hours in question are critical since Sentsov has given a consistent account of the torture he was subjected to during that period.

All four men were held incommunicado for up to three weeks, first in Simferopol (Crimea), then in Moscow, before being shown on Russian TV at the end of May.


The FSB asserted on 30 May 2014 that the four men were members of a ‘Right Sector ‘terrorist’ plot who had been planning terrorist attacks on vital parts of Crimea’s infrastructure. It claimed, for example, that they were planning to blow up railway bridges, although there are none in Crimea.

Sentsov and Kolchenko were sentenced on August 25, 2015, with Sentsov convicted of ‘organizing a terrorist organisation’ (Article 205.4 § 1 of the Russian Criminal Code), and two episodes treated as ‘terrorist acts committed by an organized group’  (Article 205 § 2a).  Other articles of the criminal code were added, presumably to justify the huge 20-year sentence, but these were the main ones.


In a word, none.  There was never any proof that a terrorist organization had existed, nor of any plans to commit the grandiose attacks on Crimean infrastructure which the FSB claimed on May 30, 2014.

These were quietly forgotten before the trial, and only two Molotov cocktail attacks at night on the empty offices of two pro-Russian organizations were presented as ‘terrorist acts’. 

The incidents are undisputed, but there is no evidence that Sentsov even knew about either of them.  Similar protest acts in Russia are treated as hooliganism or vandalism, and incur, at most, a suspended sentence. 

Torture allegations

The four men were denied any contact with lawyers or their families for nearly three weeks. Sentsov and Kolchenko remained adamant from the start that they were innocent and Sentsov, in particular, has given a detailed account of the torture methods used, and the threat that if he didn’t ‘confess’, he would be made the ‘mastermind’ of a terrorist plot and get 20 years. 

If there was nothing to hide, the FSB would not have imposed total secrecy then, or later when Afanasyev and Chirniy were separately ‘tried’ and received 7-year sentences (the minimum, in return for confessing and testifying against the others).

It would not have applied obvious methods of pressure and reprisals against Afanasyev after the latter, seen for the very first time since his televised ‘confession’, retracted it at the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko.

The trial

The FSB had imposed a regime of virtually total secrecy until the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko began in the summer of 2015.  It became clear from Day 1 that the prosecution had no real evidence and on 5 August 2015, the Memorial Human Rights Centre declared both Sentsov and Kolchenko political prisoners.  It later made the same statement about Afanasyev.

Despite the lack of any evidence, the refusal by Chirniy to give testimony in court and Afanasyev’s retraction of his testimony, the Rostov Military Court sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in a maximum security prison and Kolchenko to 10. 


Russia is also claiming that Sentsov and Kolchenko ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens.  Both have rejected this, Sentsov most eloquently during a detention hearing where he stated: “I am no serf to be passed over together with the land.  I have not written any applications to take on Russian citizenship”.


Material on the need for punitive sanctions against all those individuals implicated in the politically-motivated persecution of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko can be found here, together with a model letter asking for action on this.


Please write to Oleg Sentsov who, also in breach of international law, is being held thousands of kilometres from his home (see advice on letters). 

Russia, 677004, Republic of Yakutia, Yakutsk, 25 Ochichenko St, Prison No. 1

Sentsov, Oleg Gennadiyevich, born 1976

Birthday:   13 July 

See also:

Challenge Putin’s Lies about imprisoned Ukrainian Filmmaker Oleg Sentsov

Oleg Sentsov sends Moving Response to PEN America Freedom to Write Award

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

Details in English on Memorial’s recognition of Sentsov and Kolchenko political prisoners



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