Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 17.05.2018
Oleg Sentsov has gone on hunger strike. The filmmaker from Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula is a hostage of Russia who has been held captive for four years. Oleg Sentsov began his hunger strike on May 14, and he vowed that it would continue until Russia released all Ukrainian political prisoners.
Here is Oleg Sentsov’s formal statement: “I, Oleg Sentsov, Ukrainian citizen, sentenced illegally by a Russian court and held in a prison colony in Labytnangi, have declared a hunger strike, beginning 14 May 2018. My sole demand is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners held in the Russian Federation. Together to the end. Glory to Ukraine!”
Russia is waging war on Ukraine. Russia has invaded and partially occupied Ukraine in Crimea and some of Donbas. A campaign of Russian aggression against Ukraine is the seizing of hostages. Dozens of Ukrainians are held captive in Crimean jails, Donbas dungeons, and Russian gulags. Pro-Ukraine activists and Crimean Tatars are particularly feared and hated by Putin, they languish as political prisoners when they fall under the power of malevolent Muscovy.
There are dozens of known and hundreds of suspected Ukrainian political prisoners of the Russian invasion-occupation regime. These are the people Oleg Sentsov is trying to save with his hunger strike. Among them is Volodymyr Balukh, a farmer who lives in Crimea who is Putin’s hostage because he flew a Ukrainian flag over his house. Volodymyr Balukh began a hunger strike on March 19 to protest the illegitimate Russian occupation of his homeland, Crimea, and the illegality of the so-called ‘sentence’ that led to his incarceration. May 17 marks 60 days that Volodymyr Balukh has been on hunger strike. On May 15, his Russian tormentors dragged Volodymyr Balukh out of prison and into the kangaroo court again, to be ‘charged’ with “destabilizing the activities of the detention unit” through an alleged attack on an officer.
Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike is dedicated to Ukrainians who have unbreakable spirit and unshakeable moral character like Volodymyr Balukh – and Oleg Sentsov himself. Oleg Sentsov is probably the most well-known and prominent of the Ukrainian hostages of Russia, and his hunger strike will make headlines. Although the Russian aggressor regime has no guilt and no shame about its war against the Ukrainian people, it does not like it when Kremlin propaganda is challenged by shining a light on Russia’s crimes against humanity.
The hunger strike by Oleg Sentsov will cause Russia to be perceived even more negatively, at a time when the Putin regime is looking for a positive boost from the FIFA World Cup being held in Russia. The World Cup should have been taken away from Russia in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia expends a great deal of effort in a global propaganda campaign to deny that it is invading Ukraine, to deny that Crimea is Ukraine, and to deny that Russian soldiers are engaged in battle in Donbas. Oleg Sentsov on hunger strike ruins years of effort and enormous expenditure by the Kremlin. Oleg Sentsov’s sacrifice and heroism exposes an undeniable truth: there are Ukrainian hostages in Russia because Russia is at war with Ukraine.
Russia has put Oleg Sentsov beyond the Arctic Circle in the hope that the world will forget him. That will not happen. Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike shouts out the existence of Ukrainian political prisoners to the world. These hostages are peaceful and innocent people who were minding their own business in their own homeland before foreign invaders came and abducted them. The message of the World Cup is not that Russia is a sporting nation that welcomes the world. The message of the World Cup is that Russia is an aggressor nation that is invading Ukraine.
Oleg Sentsov understands the gravity of the step he is taking by going on hunger strike. But he is doing it for the other political prisoners and for Ukraine. He knows that his health and his life is a weapon that he can use against the enemy Russia. Oleg Sentsov told his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze: “If I die before or during the World Cup, there will be publicity that can help other political prisoners.”
Over four years after Russia invaded Ukraine, powerful leaders across the Western world are doing nothing effective to stop Putin’s War. But two men, Oleg Sentsov and Volodymyr Balukh, who are prisoners and seemingly powerless, are challenging Russian aggression and Russian crimes against humanity. They are doing that with selfless courage and abiding loyalty to Ukraine. As Oleg Sentsov said: “Together to the end. Glory to Ukraine!”