Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov saw his family for the first time today since he was convicted by Russian authorities in 2015 on what are widely recognized as fabricated charges.
Sentsov's cousin Nataliya Kaplan was permitted a short, two-hour visit to the White Bear penal colony in Russia’s north, where the 41-year-old is serving a 20-year sentence. Sentsov has previously refused all family visitations because he feared seeing his relatives would make the situation more difficult for everyone.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities have made a number of failed attempts the past month to see the Crimean-born filmmaker, who on May 14 started a hunger strike, demanding Russia free all Ukrainian political prisoners.
North Street (Severnaya) in Labytnangi, Russia. This is the same street where Sentsov's prison is located. July 5, 2018.
Sentsov – who was detained in native Simferopol in May 2014 and later sentenced to 20 years in prison – is just one of 64 Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea. He is accused of plotting terrorist acts. The filmmaker denies the charges while human rights groups believe they are politically motivated.
Kaplan said Sensov’s health has been fluctuating as a result of the hunger strike, during which he has lost 15 kilograms. According to Kaplan, he stands at 190 centimeters and now weighs 75 kilograms. She told Hromadske that while his analysis results weren’t good, his condition wasn’t critical either.
"Yesterday his health was very bad, today it’s normal,” she said.
The White Bear penal colony in Labytnangi, Russia on July 5, 2018.
She said Sentsov told her the most difficult period was the first three weeks of fasting
“Now he has been given IV therapy. Without it, he wouldn’t survive. He does not intend to stop the hunger strike. He plans to go until the end ….And he believes in victory.”
Kaplan said when she told Sentsov about the demonstrations and widespread support for him in Ukraine he was grateful but urged people to remember the others imprisoned by Russia.
“At the same time, he is very disappointed that very little attention is paid to other political prisoners and believes that if he is the only one released, this will be all be a complete failure,” she said.
Kaplan said Sentsov has asked all who come to visit him in penal colony, located in the town of Labytnangi, to instead visit the other political prisoners, who he is hunger striking for.
"In particular, he asks [Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsperson] Lyudmila Denisova, independent doctors who attempted to see him, consuls and Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea Clement, to see other political prisoners so that nobody forgets about them," she said.
Earlier, Iryna Gerashchenko, a representative from the humanitarian subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group, said Ukraine was ready to transfer 23 Russian prisoners held in Ukraine in exchange for Ukrainian political prisoners, including Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Roman Sushchenko, Pavlo Gryb and Volodymyr Balukh.
Today, she posted on Facebook that Ukraine has written to Russia's representative in the Trilateral Contact Group, Boris Gryzlov, calling for a meeting over the coming days to discuss the exchange of 23 Russians and another 13 prisoners with dual citizenship.
Since Sentsov and Ukrainian activist Oleksandr Kolchenko were detained in 2014, Russian authorities have transported the pair from Crimea to several Russian prisons. Hromadske traveled to the key sites along their transport route to find out in what conditions they were being kept in.