Oleh Sentsov addresses Europe

Oleh Sentsov is a Ukrainian activist and filmmaker from Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.  His film Gamer is from 2011. After the annexation of Crimea he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by a Russian court on charges of plotting terrorism acts. The conviction was described as fabricated by Amnesty International and others. He was awarded the European Parliament Sakharov Prize in 2018. On 7 September 2019 he was released in a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia.

On his release Oleh Sentsov called for continuation of the war  “until the very end” and warned against “talks about reconciliation with Russia”. He stated that Donbass “would be Ukraine’s collar” if it returns to Ukraine. In an interview with BBC Ukraine Sentsov said: “Putin doesn’t want to give [Donbas] as if ‘take it back, I’m tired.’ This is not an exact picture. He wants to put it on Ukraine’s neck like a collar and then pull it to make of Ukraine a domesticated and obedient dog. But this won’t work. Our country is not a dog. We will not kowtow to anyone, especially to such a person [as Putin]. We are a free nation and we ourselves decide on our fate.”

On November 26, 2019 Sentsov addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the occasion of receiving the 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.  He said: “There is a lot of talk about reconciliation with Russia… I don’t believe Putin and urge you not to believe him, because Russia and Putin will deceive you. They don’t want peace in Donbass, they don’t want peace in Ukraine. They want to see Ukraine on its knees, they want to influence European and world politics by their own forces. We will not allow it. We fought and will fight for our freedom until the very end… Every time one of you thinks about shaking Putin’s hand in friendship, remember each of the 13,000 people in Ukraine who have died, the hundreds of our guys who are still in prisons. Remember those who are being tortured and the Crimean Tatars who can be arrested at any moment. Remember those guys who are in trenches right now in camouflage and risk their lives for our freedom.” Interfax/Ukraine reported that Sentsov had completed his speech with the words “Glory to Ukraine!” with some MEPs responding, “Glory to the heroes!” This is the slogan of the Ukrainian nationalists.

Among other signs of recognition Sentsov recently received the Sergei Magnitski human rights award founded by Bill Browder. Like the Sakharov prize, this award was given to Sentsov in 2018 when he was serving a sentence in a detention camp.

Speaking to VOA after receiving his award, Sentsov called for the release of the hundreds of other Ukrainians: “Now there are about 100 of our people imprisoned in Russia,” Sentsov said. “Most of them are Crimean Tatars. There are also more than 200 imprisoned by separatists in Donbas in the territory controlled by Russia. All the prisoners must be freed because they were jailed illegally and they are hostages of the Kremlin.”

On November18, 2019 Sentsov attended the human rights film festival in Barcelona. He avoided journalists’ questions about whether he would compare his situation with that of the Catalan pro-independence leaders recently jailed by Spain. “I won’t get involved in the affairs of another country, because we still have to resolve our own,” said Sentsov, and added that such questions are for human rights organizations. “People who are in prison for protesting against the government are political prisoners, but it depends on what the NGOs say about this case”. He also refused to answer questions on the situation concerning human rights in Ukraine asked by a political refugee from Ukraine, Andrey Movchan, and a Catalan journalist. La Vanguardia also quotes Sentsov: “Soft methods do not function with Putin”. The newspaper quotes Sentsov critics in Europe for their “soft ways” to deal with Russia of Vladimir Putin using the USA as a role model.

In December Oleh Sentsov was granted honorary citizenship of Paris where the meeting among leaders of France, Russia and Ukraine was held on December 9th. ItarTass Ukraine reported that the decision of the city council was unanimous. Ouest France reported on the award ceremony during which Sentsov tried to warn President Macron against pushing Ukraine towards brokering peace: “Peace cannot be built at the cost of abandoning the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which would weaken international law. It would be a dangerous precedent”. He also claimed that “yellow vests were infiltrated by Russians as well as the movement for independence of Catalonia”.