Four years ago Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov and activist Oleksandr Kolchenko were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on falsified terrorism charges. All because they publicly opposed Russia’s illegal annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.
In that time, the two men have been carted from prison to prison, incarcerated in some of Russia’s most brutal penal colonies located deep in the Siberian tundra. Thousands of miles separate the prisoners from their homes, friends and families, with whom they have little or no contact.
Letter to Oleg Sentsov:
FKU IK-8 UFSIN of Russia for YNAO
33 North St., Labytnangi, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug
Russian Federation, 629400
Sentsov Oleg Gennadievich, b. 1976
Letter to Sasha Kolchenko:
IK-6, 20 Kemerovskaya St., Kopeisk, Chelyabinsk region
Russian Federation, 456612
Kolchenko Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, b. 1989
Hromadske recently released a documentary film, which explores the lesser known, but perhaps more shocking, details of their time in prison, and gives voice to some of their most dedicated supporters, who continue to fight for their freedom.
But they are not the only people hoping and campaigning for Sentsov and Kolchenko’s release. The injustice of Sentsov and Kolchenko’s detention has attracted attention and support from people around the world – from media outlets to international human rights organizations, from activists to celebrities.
In a heartwarming gesture of solidarity, famous Ukrainians from various fields have written letters to the prisoners Sentsov and Kolchenko. Some know them personally, others by reputation only, but their message is clear – Ukraine awaits their safe return.
Here’s what they had to say.
A Letter To Oleg Sentsov, Written By Andrey Kurkov
I’m writing this letter from the Kupidon [cafe], which you loved to frequent while coming to Kyiv.
People live in parallel, not always seeing each other but knowing of each other and looking after each other in a loving and curious way.
In the same way, I’ve been following you, and your work, and await the opportunity to meet you firsthand at least here, in the Georgian hall of Kupidon.
Kyiv remembers you and is waiting for you. Your books are published and discussed, and time stolen from you and from us goes on. But I’m sure you will soon return, and your new books and films will come out.
It’s humid in Kyiv right now. I’ve just seen some Chinese people near the Golden Gate making a film about Kyiv. Everyone is waiting for spring, but one has to learn how to wait.
A Letter To Sasha Kolchenko, Written By Galina Dzhikayeva
I took in a cat much like your own, only yours has its own Facebook page, and mine only has toys, he’s not big enough of a persona.
I named mine Kurbas, in honor of the great Ukrainian director, who died in the [Solovetsky Islands] in the 30s. His character is creative, crazy, so we get on well.
I’m following your cat on Facebook, read his posts, and we await you together.
A Letter To Sasha Kolchenko, Written By Andrey Kurkov
We are not familiar but several years have passed while myself and many millions of other Ukrainian citizens are following your fate and await your return home.
A new spring brings new hopes. Life perhaps isn’t becoming better nor more joyful because some dramatic stories having started four years ago have yet to receive their “happy end.” They have now become our history, even if a difficult one. But sooner or later, it’ll happen. I hope early, and soon.
In Kyiv, everyone is waiting for spring. Sometimes there’s rain, there’s mist in the morning, but the general mood is getting better, though the sense of anxiety hasn’t disappeared, including anxiety for your fate.
Take care of yourself and remember the Kyiv and all Ukraine is awaiting your arrival home.
A Letter To Oleg Sentsov, Written By Galina Dzhikayeva
We haven’t been too close before. In Crimea it wouldn’t have been realistic, we were much too different. Now, a lot has changed.
When you return, I would very much like to speak deeply. We are all waiting for you, in theaters, film sets, in Kyiv cafes, and the shores of the big river and our small sea. Write to us, we’re waiting.
A Letter To Oleg Sentsov, Written By Akhtem Seitablaev
Perhaps you don’t remember me, but I certainly remember you. We met at the Odesa International Film Festival in 2012, you brought your film “Gamer,” and I brought my film “Backstreet Champions.” We talked as two men, as two Crimean film directors. I just wanted to thank you for all that you are, for the real example that you set, a fearless one. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for you, how hard it must be there. I just want you to know that you are remembered, and I believe that you will return to us as soon as possible. You’ll be making films once again, great films, the way you do.
Stay strong, and come back to us.
A Letter To Oleg Sentsov, Written By Rimma Ziubina
I thought I’d write about something completely different. But then I figured, “Labytnangi” is a word I know from my childhood.
When I was a little girl, my parents’ best friend moved there with his family to work. When they returned to Uzhhorod on holiday, mom always covered the table with food, dad brought out the accordion, and the room was filled with music and laughter.
I believe that such a day will come again in my life when you yourself return from Labytnangi.
Also, every time I’m on a film set and everyone is running around and making sure that I’m comfortable in filming, I know that you should be sitting where I am.
A Letter To Sasha Kolchenko, Written By Akhtem Seitablaev
Good day, Oleksandr,
You don’t know me, but I know you because we’re both from Crimea. My name is Akhtem Seitablaev, I’m a director. I haven’t been to Crimea for four years, ever since it was occupied. But I believe and I have hope that we will meet there soon. I take great pride in men like you. I thank you for your bravery, dignity, and resilience.
This may seem sentimental, but I think that such brave examples such as you and Oleg [Sentsov] will be extolled by fathers to their sons, that they may become like you.
I know that there are no words that could provide you with adequate comfort amidst your sufferings. But you should know that I, all of us, are thinking of you at this time and doing all we can to bring you back as soon as possible. First to Ukraine, albeit without Crimea. And then, one day in the near future, we will all meet in Crimea. In Ukrainian Crimea. And we will sit by the sea, with some wine and shashlik. Or maybe just sit in silence and look at the sea.
Stay strong, friend.
A Letter To Sasha Kolchenko, Written By Oleksandra Koltsova
There are a journalist and cameraperson near me who are filming me as I write a letter to create a video for your support.
Everyone remembers you and often speak of you in the media. Everyone hopes that you and Sentsov will be exchanged before the elections [in 2019]. Whoever is elected, I hope that becomes a reality.
All these letters have been passed on to their addressees. If you would like to send your words of support to Sentsov and Kolchenko, you can do so at the following addresses.
Note: In order for the letters to reach the Ukrainians, please write them in Russian.