Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 16.06.2018
Putin is afraid to show Oleg Sentsov to the world. The Russian dictator has hidden away his hostage in Labytnangi, Russia – above the Arctic Circle and 3,000 kilometres away from Oleg Sentsov’s home in Crimea, Ukraine. On June 15, Russian officials refused permission for the Ukrainian human rights commissioner, Liudmyla Denisova, to visit Oleg Sentsov. They also refused to answer any questions about the state of his health.
Oleg Sentsov is a famous Ukrainian filmmaker. He was a patriotic supporter of the AutoMaidan movement during the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine in late 2013-early 2014. When Russia invaded Ukraine and began to militarily occupy Crimea, Oleg Sentsov helped Ukrainian soldiers and sailors who were under siege in their bases by Russian special forces soldiers, and he helped some of their families escape to unoccupied Ukraine to the north. On 11 May 2014, Russian goons snatched Oleg Sentsov off the street and he has been a hostage of the Russian regime of state terrorism ever since.
Over the past year of his captivity, Oleg Sentsov has been shuffled from penal colony to penal colony in Russia’s Far North and Siberia. His captors are doing this to torture him, damage his health by negligence of care, and to keep his whereabouts unknown to his family, his lawyer, and to human rights advocates. Oleg Sentsov’s lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, managed to find and visit him in the Labytnangi, Russia prison colony in May.
On May 14, Oleg Sentsov began a hunger strike. He managed to pass a letter to his lawyer saying that his only demand was the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners that are held by Russia. One among them is his friend, Oleksandr Kolchenko, who was ‘tried’ in a Russian kangaroo court along with Oleg Sentsov. Both men were ‘convicted’ on bogus charges. The real reason they are hostages of the Putin regime is that they are loyal to Ukraine and refuse to submit to Russian domination.
As of June 16, Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for 33 days. His health is believed to be failing. Liudmyla Denisova, the Commissioner of Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, was in Labytnangi, Russia to determine the state of his health. The head of Penal Colony No. 8 categorically turned down Liudmyla Denisova’s request to see Oleg Sentsov. According to Commissioner Denisova, the penal colony chief “turned down my request, saying that I cannot meet with Oleg Sentsov under any circumstances. He did not explain to me why he turned down my request. When I asked him about Sentsov's current condition, he said he would not provide any information and asked us to leave the territory of the colony.”
Russia is desperate to hide the condition of Oleg Sentsov. His health is suffering and his life may be in danger. It is possible the Russians are force-feeding him. During the FIFA World Cup in Russia, the Putin regime does not want Oleg Sentsov to die, but nor does it want the world to see Oleg Sentsov alive and suffering at the hands of his brutal Russian captors.
Anger in Ukraine is very high at what Russia is doing. The four years that Russia has been torturing Oleg Sentsov coincide with the four years that Russia has been at war with Ukraine, killing Ukrainians. Oleg Sentsov has the courage to risk death for his fellow prisoners of conscience and for Ukraine. In his letter announcing his hunger strike, Oleg Senstov wrote: “If I die before or during the World Cup, there will be publicity that can help other political prisoners.” Should he die, Ukrainians will be inconsolable. Should he die, Ukrainians will rise up in white-hot fury at Russia.