Moscow frees Sentsov who fought its seizure of Crimea

By John Studer
September 23, 2019
Moscow frees Sentsov who fought its seizure of Crimea
Volodymyr Petrov

After years of an international campaign demanding freedom for Ukrainian and Crimean political prisoners framed up and imprisoned in Russia, the regime of Vladimir Putin released filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, left, and Oleksandr Kolchenko, right, along with 33 others in a “prisoner swap” with the Ukrainian government, Sept. 7. 

In addition to 11 political prisoners, the Putin regime released 24 Ukrainian sailors seized after a Russian naval attack on three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea last November. 

Sentsov, who had been held for more than five years, carried out a 145-day hunger strike demanding freedom for all Ukrainian political prisoners in Putin’s gulag last year. 

This is a victory over the “special cruelty” despotic regimes “reserve for those who, through the power of writing and art can move others to resist as well,” PEN America’s Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said after Sentsov’s release. 

In addition to PEN, many organizations worldwide backed the fight for Sentsov’s freedom, including Amnesty International, the Militant  and the European Film Academy. 

Sentsov and Kolchenko were framed up on charges of terrorism for opposing Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. They held a press conference in Kiev Sept. 10 after their release. Sentsov made it clear he intends to continue to fight for the release of dozens of Ukrainian political prisoners still interned in Russia and Russian citizens who have been imprisoned for protesting against Putin’s government. “They are our real brothers, and they are also prisoners of the Kremlin,” he said. 

Sentsov said he continued to work no matter what the conditions were in his Siberian prisons. “I brought back with me 22 kilograms of letters, books and notebooks,” he said. “Fifteen notebooks of finished scripts, collections of stories.” 

He also said he plans to publish a day-by-day diary he kept during his hunger strike. 

In addition to continuing to speak out for the freedom of political prisoners in Russia, Sentsov said he was looking forward to “the best things in life — making films and living.”