Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 20.10.2018
As a result of the Putin’s War against Ukraine, over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners are being held in the Russian Federation and in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. There have been developments in recent days with regard to three of them: Oleg Sentsov, Roman Suschchenko, and Volodymyr Balukh.
Oleg Sentsov is a filmmaker. He went on hunger strike on May 14 to bring about the release of Ukrainian political prisoners. He ended his hunger strike recently to avoid force feeding. Roman Sushchenko is a journalist. The Putin regime is in the process of transferring him to a penal colony, ignoring all international calls for his release. Volodymyr Balukh is a farmer. After being severely beaten by the warden of the Simferopol remand prison, he is believed to have been transferred to a penal colony.
The Ombudsperson for human rights for the Verhovna Rada, Ukraine’s supreme parliament, is Lyudmila Denisova. On October 16 she said that she has no information on the state of health of political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Volodymyr Balukh's health. Denisova reported that her Russian counterpart, Tatyana Moskalkova, continues to assert their conditions are "satisfactory." No independent or trustworthy confirmation about the true condition of Ukrainian political prisoners has ever been obtained from the Russians, though.
Oleg Sentsov is reported to have been taken to the intensive care unit at a hospital in Labytnangi in the far north of the Russian Federation, near to the penal colony where he is being held hostage by the Putin regime. Sentsov manages to get letters to his cousin, Natalia Kaplan. She gave a briefing in Kyiv on October 16 about his condition. “He has now ended his hunger strike. He did so to avoid force-feeding,” Kaplan said. Sentsov believed that his Russian captors would turn him into a ‘vegetable’ – keeping him just alive but no longer living. Natalia Kaplan’s impression from Sentsov’s letters is that he ended his hunger strike “ with very impaired health, all of his internal organs were affected quite seriously”.
“Ending a hunger strike is quite a serious procedure, no one can say now whether Oleg will survive,” she said.
The European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament is backing the nomination of Oleg Sentsov for the Sakharov Prize. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is an awarded by the European Parliament to an individual or group that defends human rights and freedom of thought. The EPP sent this message of support on Twitter on October 19: “Oleg Sentsov has become the voice of Ukrainian political prisoners. His call for their freedom and justice is also a call for the respect of the values we all share in the EU. Discover why we decided to support his nomination for this year's SakharovPrize.”
Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko was living and working in France at the time that he was abducted by Putin’s agents in Moscow on 30 September 2016. Because of his connection to France, the French government is taking a particular interest in his case. On October 19, the Ambassador of France to Ukraine, Isabelle Dumont, said that joint France-Ukraine efforts are being made to free Sushchenko. “France is very closely monitoring the situation with Roman Sushchenko. I can assure you that we will continue to do so. The agency [Ukrinform] in which he worked, and the Ukrainian authorities, I think, will also act in this area, and our efforts will be joint. France will remain close to its Ukrainian colleagues in the work aimed at freeing Sushchenko," said Ambassador Dumont.
On October 8 it was reported that Roman Sushchenko was no longer being held hostage in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison, but that Putin regime officials had sent him to a penal colony. The Justice Ministry of Ukraine follows the cases of every Ukrainian political prisoner held hostage by Muscovy, and forwards the details to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Ukraine has files a lawsuit with the ECHR describing the violations of the rights of 71 Ukrainian prisoners of conscience being held in the Russian Federation and in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea.
Volodymyr Balukh has been conveyed to a penal colony in Kerch, Crimea, Ukraine (Russian-occupied). It is possible that the Russian Federation will further violate international human rights law by removing Volodymyr Balukh from Ukraine and sending him to the Russian Federation. In anticipation of the ordeal, Volodymyr Balukh suspended his hunger strike, which has been ongoing, fully or partially, for 200 days. He suffers from an ulcer or pancreatitis, and has numerous other health problems from his hunger strike and from beatings and abuse he has suffered at the hands of his Russian captors.
Every day of Putin’s War against the Ukrainian people, the Russian invader-occupiers descend to new depths of depravity in their abuse of Ukrainian prisoners of conscience. War crimes and crimes against humanity by Russian officials will not stop until Putin’s War is stopped.