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Sentsov’s Mother Fears She May Never See Her Son Again
5 June, 2018
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Oleg Sentsov's mother Liudmyla hasn’t seen her son for three years. The last time she saw him was during a trial in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, in the summer of 2015. The Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker was sentenced to 20 years in a penal colony in August that year. Since then, he has been transported to the Urals and then to the penal colony in Labytnangi, Russia.

On May 14 he began a hunger strike, demanding the immediate release of all Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia and occupied Crimea. Sentsov was detained in occupied Crimea in May, 2014, on fabricated charges along with Oleksandr Kolchenko, who last week also announced a hunger strike in support of Sentsov.

Photo credit: Anton Naumliuk/(RFE/RL)

Liudmyla says her son doesn’t want her to visit. She wanted to bring Sentsov’s two children, Alina and Vlad, to visit while he was held in Rostov but she said her son told her it would only make things harder for everyone.

“He says it won’t bring anyone joy, not to us, not to him,” she said.

Now Sentsov is further away and Liudmyla fears that it’s a possibility she may never see her son again.

“I really want to see him. It’s frightening to think that it’s possible I may never see him again,” she said.

Photo credit: archive

Instead, she writes to her son about four times a month, telling him about his children. When they speak on the phone or write, she asks him if he needs anything. He tells her he’s fine.

“I'm afraid that this is how the years will pass, people will forget about him, and he will be in prison for 20 years,” she said.

Hromadske spoke to Liudmyla Sentsova in March about her son.

Tell us about how your life? How are Oleg’s children?

I want to say that the children are very brave. The first year and the second year even were very difficult for Alina. She argued with teachers and with other people. But now she’s very wise, she has set a goal for herself - to get an education. So she’s studying.

Photo credit: Nataliya Gumenyuk/HROMADSKE

Tell us about them.

She is exactly like Oleg. There were many questions about Oleg, and then her teacher said: "Alina, it’s difficult for you here. You just need to change schools.” And she said "Grandma, I listened and listened at first and I wanted to run away from there.” And then, the teacher told her to change schools. She turned around and said "I was studying here before, I’m studying here now and I’m going to continue to study at this school. If you don’t like it, you leave." She was in the 5th grade. Then she turned around and walked away.

READ MORE: From Crimea to Siberia: How Russia is Tormenting Political Prisoners Sentsov and Kolchenko

How close was he with his children? How did he raise them?

He loved them very much. He took them everywhere; to the mountains, to the beach. He was always with them. If he calls or writes, Alina and him still discuss which books to read. To this day, she listens to him a lot.

Photo credit: archive

It was very difficult for Vlad. He didn’t call him Dad, he called him Oleg. Oleg was everything to him. And then suddenly he was gone. Vlad has very big eyes, and he looks at you with these big eyes and asks: "Where is Oleg? Where did he go? Is it my fault that he left?"

How often do you write to Oleg?

We try to write to Oleg often, of course, we rarely receive letters from him. Maybe once every one and a half months, or once a month. But we write to him. I write maybe four letters a month. I just write about the children – what they’re doing, where they’ve been, how their studies are going – I don’t write about anything else. Of course, we don’t write about our problems. Everything is always going well for us. And the children are good, all is well.

Photo credit: Nataliya Gumenyuk/HROMADSKE

How does he sound? What was his voice like?

I cried so much when he was transferred there. I did not know that he was in the detention facility or whatever it’s called. There was just nothing, no letters, no phone calls. I didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. And then he called. I cried non-stop for a week maybe, because his voice...like that of someone who has been destroyed. It was terrible. Then a letter arrived and he wrote that everything was fine.

During the next phone call he was happy, he had received a photo of the children. Of course, he hasn’t seen him for a long time. He had been sent photos before but there was a year and a half difference and, in that time, they had grown up. He was very happy with these photos. His voice was chipper and that meant he wasn’t sick and everything was more or less fine there. But at first it was scary though.

What does he say about conditions he is held in?

He never says anything. He says: "I am fine." Oleg, do you need something? "I have everything I need, mom."

READ MORE: How Russia Created 'Terrorist' Image For Sentsov and Kolchenko

He doesn’t want to meet?

No, he doesn’t. He says it won’t bring anyone joy, not to us, not to him. It will only make things harder. We wanted to come to Rostov, I said I’ll come with the children. Rostov wasn’t that far away. But he said: "Don’t, I’ve seen people who have been visited by their children and what happens to them later."

Photo credit: archive

For me, Urals is far away. I have no idea how to get there. Alina and I looked at the map, but that’s just a map. I can only imagine how long it took him to get there, and in what condition he was in when he got there. My eyesight is poor now and it's very difficult for me to get there myself. I really want to see him. It’s frightening to think that it’s possible I may never see him again.

Do you speak with Sasha Kolchenko's mother?

I don’t talk with anyone.

Is it difficult?

It's hard, especially because he's so young. I tear up when I think about it. If I see his mother, I might faint. It's very difficult for me. I will never reproach Oleg about what happened. This is his life, he was already 40 years old. It was his choice. Kolchenko is younger. I feel more sorry for him, because he is a young boy.

READ MORE: Famous Ukrainians Send Letters of Support to Sentsov and Kolchenko

What would you want to say to Oleg?

We love you very much son and we’re waiting for you. I want him to get out and be with the children again. Vlad now needs a father. He is a sick boy, he needs development. He is not stupid, he reads wonderfully.

I'm afraid that this is how the years will pass, people will forget about him, and he be in prison for 20 years.

/By Nataliya Gumenyuk