Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 19.06.2018
The campaign to free Oleg Sentsov and all Ukrainian political prisoners of war in Russia is making news every day. There is a co-ordinated effort to connect the “Free Sentsov” movement to the “Show the Red Card to Putin” initiative to boycott the FIFA World Cup in Russia. That effort is paying off in awareness and political pressure on the Putin regime.
Earlier it was reported that Russia refused to allow Lyudmyla Denisova, the Human Rights Commissioner for Ukraine’s Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, to visit Oleg Sentsov or Mykola Karpyuk. The Russians say that they have taken away Ukrainian citizenship from the hostages, and forced upon them Russian citizenship. Therefore the Ukrainian emissary cannot see them. In other words, the Putin regime justifies committing human rights violations by admitting they had previously committed another.
On June 18, Lyudmyla Denisova was not allowed to meet with Ukrainian journalist and hostage of Russia Roman Sushchenko. In this case, the Russians did not have a legalistic excuse, as the Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner had written approval from the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation.
Russia is hiding away Oleg Sentsov and Mykola Karpyuk and Roman Sushchenko and all the Ukrainian hostages. The Putin regime is being embarrassed on the world stage as it is being exposed for its grave violations of human rights at a time when it wishes all the attention was on the football pitches of the World Cup.
On June 16, two of the biggest arts groups in Canada joined the worldwide call for Russia to release its Ukrainian hostages. Luminato and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) issued a joint statement. “As the world’s attention turns to Russia for the World Cup, we urge the international artistic community and Canadian government to join us in calling for the immediate release of Mr. Sentsov and 70 additional Ukrainian political prisoners,” the statement said. In Toronto, Luminato is presenting the Belarus Free Theatre’s play “Burning Doors,” which tells Oleg Sentsov’s story. TIFF has a close bond with Oleg Sentsov because he is a well-known Ukrainian filmmaker who presented his films at festivals before his abduction by Russian invaders of Crimea in 2014.
PEN International, the writers group which advocates for free expression globally, is conducting a campaign called “Keeping Score at the 2018 World Cup: Reporting on the dark side of Russia.” On June 18, PEN International made a presentation at the United Nations, in which it urged the UN Human Rights Council to call on the Russian authorities to “immediately release Oleg Sentsov and return all Ukrainian nationals arrested in Crimea and now held in Russia to Ukraine, and free all held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is going to have talks with Putin in Russia during the World Cup. On June 15, 38 countries wrote a letter to Secretary-General Guterres to call on him to treat “as a matter of urgency” the case of Oleg Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike since May 14. Three UN Security Council permanent members – the United States, the United Kingdom, and France – signed the letter, as did Ukraine, Georgia, Australia, Canada, and many EU countries.
On June 18 it was announced that the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, had handed to Secretary-General Guterres a list of all the known Ukrainian prisoners being held by Russia. It is stressed that that these people are being held captive illegally, and that Russia is in breach of its international obligations by holding them.
The Russian invader-occupiers of Ukraine keep adding to the tally of hostages. On June 18, an illegal armed formation in Crimea loyal to Moscow raided the town of Staryi Krym. This was targeted harassment against the Crimean Tatar community. The owner of a house and his daughter were taken away to Simferopol. This kind of slow-motion ethnic cleansing has been going on continuously since Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014.
The World Cup is not bringing unadulterated prestige to Russia. The “Free Sentsov” campaign and the campaign to free all Ukrainian political prisoners of war is bringing some measure of discomfort to the Putin regime. When people think about the World Cup in Russia, now they’re starting to think about the anguish of Ukrainian hostages of Russia.