Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 01.06.2018
Oleksandr Kolchenko is on hunger strike. The Ukrainian loyalist and civic activist from Crimea is a hostage of the Russian regime of state terrorism. He was one of the first of the Ukrainian patriots to be abducted by Putin’s goons after Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014. Snatched along with Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko was ‘convicted’ in a kangaroo court of the temporary Russian occupation regime of Ukrainian Crimea. He now languishes in a prison in the Russian Federation.
Announcing his hunger strike on May 31, Oleksandr Kolchenko joins his friend and fellow hostage Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker, who began his on May 14. Oleksandr Kolchenko managed convey to his lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, that he wholeheartedly agreed with the goal Oleg Sentsov expressed when he began his hunger strike, which was that it would end only with the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners of Russia. Oleksandr Kolchenko fears that the worst outcome would be for Oleg Sentov’s hunger strike to be a ignored. If that were to happen, Russia would escape the global censure which it abundantly deserves for its crimes against humanity. The Putin regime is brittle and cares about its reputation, particularly now when Russia is attempting to host the FIFA World Cup. Oleksandr Kolchenko knows that his hunger strike contributes to the momentum against Russia that is building with Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike. Russia is an unworthy host of the FIFA World Cup, and hunger strikes by Ukrainians who are unjustly incarcerated for their beliefs draws attention to that.
After four years as a hostage of the brutal Russian regime of state terrorism, Oleksandr Kolchenko is dangerously thin and suffering from a heart condition. In the opinion of his lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, a hunger strike by him is “equivalent to suicide.” Kolchenko’s extraordinary bravery and principled position stands in stark contrast to the moral depravity of the Russian regime which has been incarcerating him – an innocent man – for four long years.
Aleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov are joined on hunger strike by two other Ukrainian political prisoners of war held by Russia: Volodymyr Balukh and Oleksandr Shumkov.
Volodymy Balukh, a farmer from Crimea, is a hostage because he flew a Ukrainian flag over his house. He went on hunger strike on March 19 to protest the illegality of his so-called ‘conviction’ and his incarceration by the Russian invader-occupiers of his homeland.
Oleksandr Shumkov was ‘disappeared’ by Russia’s Federal Security Service from out of Ukraine in August 2017. His Russian kidnappers revealed him publicly weeks later, to announce that he had been charged with crimes. Aleksandr Shumkov announced that he was going on hunger strike on May 24 in solidarity with Oleg Sentsov.
There are over 70 known Ukrainian political prisoners of war being held by Russia. Four of them are on hunger strike: Volodymyr Balukh, Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, and Oleksandr Shumkov. They are incredibly brave, fiercely loyal to Ukraine, and utterly contemptuous of the Russian regime of state terrorism that holds them hostage and which is invading and partially occupying their homeland.
June 1 and June 2 are international “Days of Action” to call for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners being held by Russia. As this is the demand of Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike and his is the most well-known of the hostages, the global protest effort is focussed on the call to free Sentsov. The call to boycott the FIFA World Cup in Russia is also front and centre in the June 1 and June 2 events.
Free Sentsov and all Ukrainian political prisoners of Russia: this will be the call on Friday and Saturday in cities in Germany, France, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czechia, Sweden, Switzerland, Georgia, Poland, Belgium, Kuwait, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, Israel, Portugal, Russia, Austria, the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine.
Over 70 Ukrainians are hostages of Russia because of they will not accede to the Russia’s unprovoked and illegitimate invasion and partial occupation of Ukraine. They should be released. Russia should not gain any prestige from holding the FIFA World Cup because it is a violent aggressor which is invading the largest country that lies wholly within Europe: Ukraine But most importantly Russia’s war against Ukraine has to stop. Crimea and Donbas must be freed of the foreign Russian occupation and returned to the full sovereign control of Ukraine.