war crimes in Ukraine

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Oleg Sentsov ends hunger strike in face of imminent force-feeding

Halya Coynash

Oleg Sentsov has announced that, in the face of imminent commencement of force-feeding, he is ending his hunger strike from 6 October. The doctors are saying that his life is in danger due to irrevocable damage to his internal organs, and had given him until the end of the week before "turning him into a vegetable", tied to the bed with tubes attached.

Sentsov has passed on a statement via his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze. 

“To all for whom this is of interest,

Due to the critical state of my health, as well as pathological changes beginning to my inner organs, there were plans to begin applying forced feeding in the immediate future. Nobody is considering my opinion in this. I am supposedly no longer in a state to adequately assess my level of health and the dangers I’m facing. The forced feeding will be carried out in the form of resuscitation measures to save the patient’s life. Under such circumstances, I am forced to end my hunger strike from today, i.e. from 6.10.2018.

145 days of battle, weighing 20 kilogram less, plus an organism that’s shot, yet my aim has not been achieved. I am grateful to all those who supported me, and ask forgiveness of those whom I have let down…”

Dinze reports that the situation is critical., with Sentsov’s liver in a state of decay and his kidneys so blocked (for lack of pressure) that they are virtually not functioning.  There are now also major problems with his stomach and intestine, as well as cardiac ischemia.  Sentsov had been given until the end of the week (i.e. now) to decide to give up himself, or “they would have turned him into a vegetable, bound to his bed, with a tube in the nose, or whatever they’d insert to carry out the force-feeding.

He obviously didn’t want to end the hunger strike.  This is a measure forced on him”.

As reported, Sentsov was taken to hospital on 28 September, after which Dinze confirmed that there had been a sharp deterioration in his condition, with heart problems, as well as the above-mentioned liver and kidney problems.  Sentsov suffered from a serious heart condition as a young boy, and any weakening was therefore of particular concern.  Earlier in September, his cousin Natalya Kaplan reported 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 Ukrainian filmmaker and most famous Kremlin hostage began his hunger strike on 14 May, demanding the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners.  This was a month before, incredibly given Russia’s behaviour over the previous four years, the World Cup was due to be held in Russian cities.

Sentsov had seen his hunger strike as the only option remaining to him and hoped that it would, at least, receive maximum attention. 

There have certainly been international calls for Moscow to release Sentsov and the other 70 Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia and occupied Crimea. 

Moscow’s reaction has been only to lie about Sentsov’s condition, the charges against him, and to use grubby methods to attempt to discredit him.

Sentsov and three other opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea: Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy were all seized by the Russian FSB [security service] in Simferopol in May 2014.  After being held incommunicado, during which time three of the men report having been tortured, the FSB came up with ‘terrorist plot’ charges, based solely on the testimony during that period without lawyers or contact with their families from Afanasyev and Chyrniy.  Afanasyev later in court, during the trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko retracted his testimony, stating clearly that it had been extracted by torture.

Sentsov reported from the beginning that the FSB both tortured him and threatened that if he did not provide the ‘testimony’ demanded, they would designate him the mastermind of the supposed ‘plot’ and he would get 20 years.

This is exactly what happened.  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.).

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.

The grandiose claims 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’. Those two incidents are undisputed, but they had nothing to do with Sentsov.  Important to note that similar protest acts in Russia are treated as hooliganism or vandalism, and incur, at most, a suspended sentence. 

On August 25, 2015, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years, as the FSB had threatened, Kolchenko to ten years, on the basis solely of the other two men’s testimony, despite Afanasyev’s retraction. Chyrniy refused to testify in court, meaning he could not be questioned.

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 (who was later returned to Ukraine as part of an exchange, on health grounds).

There is quite simply no possibility that the ‘judges’ who sentenced Sentsov believed that the men were guilty of ‘terrorism’ charges, nor that Russian President Vladimir Putin believes his own claims that Sentsov and Kolchenko “were sentenced by the court” and on serious charges. 

There has recently been a shameful pretence with the Kremlin claiming that it could not consider any calls (including from Sentsov’s mother and Archbishop Kliment of Crimea) to ‘pardon’ him, without an application from Sentsov himself.  This is a direct lie, since at least three other political prisoners exchanged for people Putin wanted had refused to make such an application (Akhtem Chiygoz; Ilmi Umerov and Nadiya Savchenko).

Russia has also continued to repeat its lawless attempts to claim that both Sentsov and Kolchenko ‘automatically’ became Russian citizens, with this used as an excuse both to deny them access to the Ukrainian consul and to claim that they could not be returned to Ukraine. 

Both Sentsov and Kolchenko were sent to the furthest ends of the Russian Federation to ensure maximum difficulty in visiting them, in the hope that this would minimize international attention.  That has not worked with the men’s release demanded by all international bodies, democratic governments, international human rights organizations and world-renowned filmmakers, artists and others.

The Kremlin remains unyielding so clearly the pressure was never strong enough.




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