Ukrainian film director and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov, who is being held illegally in a remote Siberian prison in Russia, has gone on a hunger strike.
This was put forward in a statement by Sentsov’s lawyer, Dmitriy Dinze, who provided the information to Hromadske. By going on a hunger strike, Sentsov demands the immediate release of all Ukrainians detained in Russia and Crimea.
“I, Oleg Sentsov, citizen of Ukraine, unlawfully tried by Russian judiciary, currently being held in the colony of Labytnangi, declare that I have begun a hunger strike indefinitely as of May 14, 2018,” his statement reads. “The sole condition of its end is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners located on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has already reacted to the news by calling for the international community to “continue pressuring the Kremlin to free all Ukrainian political prisoners as soon as possible.”
“We continue to fight for them and offer every effort in order to free these unlawfully detained Ukrainians, who are held on the territory of occupied Crimea, Donbas, and the territory of the Russian Federation,” Poroshenko said on his Facebook page.
Dinze also says he warned Sentsov of the possible consequences of a hunger strike, including irreversible health risks. The lawyer does not rule out that Sentsov may soon become subject to “compulsory psychiatric observation and forced feeding.”
“He has been transferred to a safe place, where individuals refusing food and going on hunger strike are located,” Dinze told Hromadske, adding that the filmmaker has not specified whether it is a dry hunger strike. “He is confident in his decision to continue the hunger strike to the end until there is some sort of result.”
Sentsov is one of 64 Ukrainian political prisoners located on the territory of occupied Crimea and the Russian Federation.
Of the 64 political prisoners, 27 are held on the territory of the Russian Federation while the rest are in Crimea. Among them 58 were detained on the territory of the occupied peninsula. Those figures do not include people detained in the self-proclaimed and Russian-backed “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics”.
According to Dinze, the preparations for the hunger strike took Sentsov one and a half months.
“[This time] was dedicated to reducing the volume of food consumed... to a full hunger strike.” Dinze said.
Concerning the question of whether he is accorded the right of necessary medical attention, Dinze stated that Sentsov received a full medical examination upon entering the colony. “According to it, he had no serious illnesses,” the lawyer said. Dinze said that Sentsov received medical treatment for the issues that were discovered: he is taking vitamins for his heart and body.
"He has always had cardiovascular issues," the lawyer said. "As far as I remember, this has been an issue from childhood, moreover he has chronic rheumatism.”
Medical assistance in the colony, in the words of the lawyer, is as follows: practically nothing is done, though prisoners are sent for examination.
“From the point of view of a hunger strike, as far as I understand, they will try to prevent him from dying in the colony, and sooner still, they could send him to the medical ward, if his condition sufficiently deteriorates,” Dinze said.
Sentsov could also be accorded some sort of punitive measures in light of his declared hunger strike, Dinze suggested, though "nothing has been mentioned concerning this as of yet."
The lawyer says he had attempted to dissuade Sentsov from the hunger strike, offering him alternative methods which could, in his opinion, be effective. These include filing an appeal for cassation to the Supreme Court.
“[But] he does not believe in the Russian judicial system, saying: 'Do not waste time on this. Appealing to the people who had you imprisoned unlawfully in the first place is simply useless.'”
Inasmuch as no reaction was received from the European court of human rights, to which an appeal had been made, Sentsov hopes that his hunger strike will force the European court to look into his case, “at least in some form.”
The lawyer likewise stated, that at the time of his last meeting with Sentsov, his client was “already rather thin, but with a certain determination."
"He was prepared to go to the very end. As he says, 'Either I die in the colony, or my demands will be met.'"
Sentsov’s cousin, Nataliya Kaplan, providing comments to Hromadske, stated that she cannot support his decision:
“It seems to me that this is unwise, and there would be more damage from a hunger strike than positive outcomes. I’m very concerned about him," she said. "This step of his makes me nervous, but I know Oleg and I know that he will not back down. There is little left for me but to hope that he will stay strong and accomplish his goal.”
Ukrainian film director Sentsov and activist Oleksandr Kolchenko were detained in Crimea on May 10, 2014. They were charged with preparing terrorist acts, with Kolchenko receiving a 10-year sentence, and Sentsov receiving 20. They were detained with Gennady Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chirniy. Afanasiev was exchanged in 2016, and Chirniy is staying in a colony in Magadan.
At the moment, Sentsov is being held in the “White Bear” colony in the city of Labytnagi in Siberia.
Hromadske visited the "White Bear" colony in March 2018 and has since released a film on Sentsov's and Kolchenko’s imprisonments, which is available in Ukrainian and Russian. The English-language version is going to be made available shortly.