Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 26.10.2018
The European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Oleh Sentsov. Established in 1988, the prize is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for global human rights.
Oleh Sentsov is a filmmaker and writer from Crimea, Ukraine. In late 2013, he put aside his work to join the EuroMaidan movement that was forming in Kyiv. EuroMaidan started as a protest against the decision of then-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, to give in to the demands of Putin and withdraw Ukraine from the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. ‘Maidan’ (named after Independence Square in Kyiv) evolved into much more: a massive demonstration of the desire of the Ukrainian people to live a normal life, free of corruption, free of the crushing effects of occupation by Muscovy, and free to choose a European and a Western path for themselves and their children. EuroMaidan became known as the Revolution of Dignity, and was victorious by the end of February 2014.
Oleh Sentsov joined the AutoMaidan movement in the Revolution of Dignity. Activists in AutoMaidan, like Sentsov, used their vehicles to help the protest movement spread beyond Independence Square in Kyiv. Ukraine may have became formally independent in 1991, but it became actually independent in 2014 in part because AutoMaidan helped a small protest in Kyiv become a national movement of direct democracy.
When Victor Yanukovych fled his post as President of Ukraine, Oleh Sentsov returned to his home in Crimea. But in the same week, the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine: on 27 February 2014, special forces of the Russian army captured the regional parliament in Simferopol, Ukraine. The Russian invasion army besieged the Ukrainian armed forces in their bases throughout Crimea. At great personal risk, Oleh Sentsov set out to help the Ukrainian service members besieged on their bases, as well as their families. He used his experience in AutoMaidan to bring food and humanitarian supplies. He helped some families escape and reach the safety of other parts of Ukraine not yet under Russian occupation. Above all, Oleh Sentsov gave his fellow Ukrainians hope, and he demonstrated the illegitimacy of the Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine in Crimea.
Members of an illegal armed formation loyal to Putin abducted Oleh Sentsov on 11 May 2014. He has been a hostage of the Russian regime of state terrorism ever since. Because he would not betray Ukraine or the Revolution of Dignity, Russian occupation officials ‘sentenced’ Oleh Sentsov in a kangaroo court to 20 years of imprisonment on invented ‘terrorism’ charges.
On 14 May 2018, Oleh Sentsov went on a hunger strike. He demanded the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners being held by the Russian Federation. He endured great suffering and damage to his health for the sake of others. He ended his hunger strike after 145 days when his Russian captors threatened to force-feed him – effectively to torture him. His heroic sacrifice was not in vain, as his hunger strike exposed the Putin regime to international censure. To some degree, Oleh Sentsov’s actions ‘spoiled the party’ of the FIFA World Cup in the Russian Federation, which Putin had hoped would be a showcase.
In awarding the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament reiterated its demand that “the Russian authorities immediately and unconditionally release Oleh Sentsov and all other illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and on the Crimean peninsula.”
Oleh Sentsov is a Ukrainian citizen who lives in Crimea. Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine. The Sakharov Prize award of 2018 demonstrates this position of the European Union – which is held by the whole civilized Western world. The invasion and partial occupation of Ukraine by the Russian Federation will not stand.
“Sentsov was sentenced because he opposed the illegal and forced annexation of part of his country by its belligerent neighbour, which was a blatant violation of international law, and Russian international and bilateral commitments,” read the European Parliament announcement of the Sakharov Prize.
Congratulations to Oleh Sentsov: loyal Ukrainian, hero of the Revolution of Dignity, and champion of global human rights. May you live free in your homeland again soon.