Ahead of the fifth anniversary of Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s arrest by Russian authorities, Hromadske spoke to his mother. We found out how his kids are growing up without their father, Sentsov’s hunger strike, and the likelihood of amnesty.
What do you talk about [with your son]?
Most of all, he asks how my health is, how the kids are doing at school, and what they are interested in. Basically, we mostly talk about that. It’s impossible to talk about his health, because everything is always “fine” for him. He plays sports, recovers, takes vitamins, looks after himself. We need not worry about him. Therefore, I might as well not ask him. Everything is always “fine” with his health. Regarding the children - he is interested in all the details, whether they are not sick, how the school is going. Whom Vlad is seeing, how he is with friends. That’s all. We get 20 minutes, but even that is not enough.
How often do you communicate?
Once a month. For 20 minutes.
And what will Alina do, she’s 17, almost an adult?
16.5 to be exact, yes. You know, she has not yet decided. At first, she wanted to do photography, but now she seems to have abandoned the camera… She wanted to be a camerawoman, like her dad, to spend time with him.
What is Alina planning to do in the future, because she is already finishing school? What would you like her to do next?
I would like her to get an education. And she wants that too. But definitely not in Russia, she said. But where - remains to be seen.
What has changed for you during the hunger strike? You were probably relieved after he ended it, but did you understand [his motive]?
I was very afraid. I knew the state of his health, how he endured a lot of diseases when he was little. Even if he wanted to - he really did not - they would not take him into the army for health reasons. He was on prescription medicine, because of his heart failure, because of his polyarthritis. Then on top of that this hunger strike. Of course, I was terribly scared, he tried to calm me down, saying “mom, my body will manage, everything will get better”. But it was torture. Every day I went to bed thinking about it. And then getting up again, waking up even at night and thinking of him immediately. I really wanted him to stop starving, to stop the hunger strike. Lord heard me.
How did you find out? Did he call?
I was told by Alina first. She called me. She was in Simferopol, called me and said that dad ended the hunger strike. I could not believe what I heard. She said, “grandma, I’m telling you the truth,” and then Father Climent called. He said our prayers have worked and Oleg has stopped the hunger strike. But the hardest stage of coming out was still ahead. I don’t know. I guess he did the right thing.
At the time you said, that you understood [why he did that] or accepted it?
I did not understand it, I merely accepted [the fact]. I accepted his decision. I could not understand it at all, how he could put himself under such risk. Of course, it was hard for me, but I accepted it.
During the hunger strike, who has contacted you? Russian politicians, Ukrainian ones?
No one. Practically no one. Recently some of our human rights defenders. Then there was this one Crimean Tatar human rights activist. Father Climent also came once.
Then you wrote that letter?
I wrote a letter, I already said I was going to, when I found out there was a possibility to do that. Maybe some mercy will be shown, because of how long he has been held there. So I wrote to Putin himself. You know, I thought, he is an Orthodox Christian, he just returned from holy places. I was hoping for mercy, hoping he would respond with something. And then I received an official answer, not just one, but two answers came. And there it was clearly written that he himself has to write to the President of Russia to ask for pardon. Only then a question of pardon will be considered. And that was it.
I realized that my letter [to Putin] was in vain. I shouldn’t have written anything at all. Although I knew that it was probably [a wrong move]. But what if? And you know, there was some kind of hope. And what if someone else supported me? What if this plea became the last straw? But no. Now I know that it was never going to make things better.
Mother of Ukrainian filmmaker from Crimea who is currently imprisoned in Russia speaks to Hromadske in March 2019. Photo credit: Anna Tsygyma / HROMADSKE
It will soon be the fifth anniversary of [Sentsov’s] arrest.
It was May 10, 2014. He was arrested on that day. Officially, they announced the arrest on May 11, but he was taken on the 10th. On May 9, he was here with the children. He was on a trip to Bakhchisaray with Vlad and Alina. Then they went to baths and Vlad stayed with me. Alina said she will go with dad. And they went to Simferopol. Then at two in the morning, Alina was brought back to me, which meant that Oleg was already arrested.
Considering he was given 20 years, do you think there is hope for amnesty? Under which circumstances could he be released earlier?
I just hope that maybe something will change within the government. The policy will change. After all, it is not just Ukrainians who are asking for Oleg [to be released], Russians too. So there is general understanding that his case was mostly fabricated. I don’t know what to hope for.
I hope for one, that the people do not forget. I was terribly afraid that a year passes and then everyone will forget. And how can he stand it? And many thanks to everyone, who does not forget.
He was very worried, he did not even want any photos to surface. When I said, that I will be coming, but I only went to Rostov for him. I said I would come, but he said, “mom, it’s not necessary, neither of us would benefit from this.”
I told Alina that they can take her straight there, even with an attendant. They told me that we just need to take an attendant, fly there and see Oleg right away. She cried her eyes out. She said, “granny, I would hug my dad and I would have to fly back without him? How do you think I will live after that? You see?”
People really do help. If it were not for the people, everything would have petered out by now. Many thanks to the public.
Some things happen when you least expect them...
Yes, I’ve heard that too... Even Oleg wrote in one of the last letters: “Mom, I know that this will happen, but it will happen very unexpectedly."
/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk
/Translated by Džiugas Kuprevičius