On May 31, Ukrainian activist and political prisoner Oleksandr (Sasha) Kolchenko announced a hunger strike in solidarity with filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is being held in a penal colony in the Russian town of Labytnangi.
Sentsov began an indefinite hunger strike on May 14 to demand the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and occupied Crimea. Of the 64 political prisoners, 27 are held on the territory of the Russian Federation while the rest are in Crimea.
Kolchenko and Sentsov were detained in occupied Crimea in May, 2014, accused of plotting terrorist acts and later taken to Russia and convicted. Kolchenko, who is currently in a penal colony in Chelyabinsk, Russia, was sentenced to 10 years and Sentsov to 20 – both on fabricated charges.
Photo credit: Anton Naumliuk/(RFE/RL)
Larysa Kolchenko, Oleksandr's mother, told Hromadske earlier that the two men didn’t know each other well prior to the arrests.
“I generally wonder how they tied everything together, because they crossed paths during the meetings that took place in 2014 but they weren’t really familiar to each other, they weren’t close friends,” she said.
Larysa said her son was first charged with involvement in mass riots, but then it snowballed into "terrorism" charges. During his detention, Larysa has only been able to visit him three times – often coming across difficulties when applying for visitation.
She said both herself and Kolchenko are hoping he will be included in a prisoner exchange with Russia.
“Sasha also has faith in Ukraine, that they won’t leave him, that they will exchange him. He is an optimist in life, his spirits haven’t fallen and he is hopeful,” she said.
Photo credit: Anton Naumliuk/(RFE/RL)
Larysa plans to leave Crimea, where she has lived all her life, after Kolchenko’s release because she understands her son will never return to Crimea.
Hromadske spoke to Larysa Kolchenko about her son earlier this year.
Larysa, you went to Kopeysk? Tell us about it.
The first time I was very afraid of this meeting, I hadn’t seen him for a year and a half before this meeting. I was afraid that prison would change him, but when I met with him, I saw my son Sasha. He hadn’t become resentful, he is as positive as he was before everything that happened.
What did he tell you about the colony?
He is reluctant to speak about the colony. He tends to ask more about what’s happening in Crimea, in Ukraine, about friends. He is very interested in what’s happening around the world. He tries not to talk about the colony, he just says "mom, everything is fine.”
What does he talk about? Do they feed them in the colony? Does he work there? Who does he spend time with?
He reads most of the time. He’s now learning English in the colony. Sometimes he goes to the gym. He wanted to get a job, to learn some kind of specialty, so that time goes faster but they denied him those opportunities. They said that they don’t need someone with “the kind of criminal articles” that he’s been charged with.
What are you hoping for now? For an exchange?
Of course, we are hopeful for an exchange. Sasha also has faith in Ukraine, that they won’t leave him, that they will exchange him. He is an optimist in life, his spirits haven’t fallen and he is hopeful.
Photo credit: archive
Back in Rostov, you gave him books of Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko, as I understand. What kind of books did you ask for then?
I gave him Ivan Franko then. The guys collected a three-volume book in Simferopol, and he carried all these books with him wherever he went – to Rostov and Chelyabinsk. But in Chelyabinsk he was forced to put these books into storage because Ukrainian literature is not allowed there. But he does bring everything with him. It’s hard there of course.
What did Sasha love about Crimea? What did he enjoy doing there?
He loved Crimea very much. He liked to go hiking, traveling. He practically walked the whole of Crimea. He was studying at the Taurida National University. He finished two years of university there before all this happened. He chose to study tourism, which is part of the Geography faculty.
He had actually been reinstated at the Kyiv University to continue his education long- distance, but they won’t allow him to do this. We’re trying to push for the authorities to allow him to continue his studies, but I don’t know how it will turn out.
I think that unfortunately, I will eventually have to leave Crimea. I've lived there all my life. Of course, it will be very difficult but I understand Sasha will never return to Crimea.
In 2014, how did you find out that Sasha was detained? Were you keeping an eye on the situation in Crimea? What did Sasha tell you?
Sasha was detained on May 16, in the center of the city, he was walking down the street with friends and was detained by FSB officers. On the same day, our house was searched. He was first charged with involvement in mass riots, but then it snowballed, and it turned into "terrorism" charges.
Did Sasha say anything about Oleg?
He couldn’t say much, because they – and all of the people involved in this case – weren’t really friends. I generally wonder how they tied everything together, because they crossed path during the meetings that took place in 2014 but they weren’t really familiar with each other, they weren’t close friends.
/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk
/Text by Natalie Vikhrov