Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 24.05.2018
Oleg Sentsov has been on a hunger strike for 10 days. The Ukrainian filmmaker is a hostage of Russia, captured by Putin’s goons in 2014 soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. He is presently being held in the far north of Russia, illegally held by the regime of state terror that occupies his homeland of Crimea. Oleg Sentsov gave the reason for his hunger strike in a note passed to his lawyer: “The only condition for ceasing my hunger strike will be the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners held in the Russian Federation. Together and to the end! Glory to Ukraine!”
Oleg Sentsov is probably the most famous of the hostages of Russia. Momentum is building world-wide for the campaign to free him and all the political prisoners being held by the Putin regime.
Egidijus Vareikis is the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the humanitarian consequences of the war in Ukraine. On May 23, Mr. Vareikis called for the release of Oleg Sentsov. “Ten days ago he began an open-ended hunger strike and I fear for his health. I call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” said the PACE rapporteur. PACE passed a resolution earlier this year calling for the release of “all Ukrainian prisoners captured and imprisoned in Russia and in annexed Crimea in the context of the war.” Mr. Sentsov gave a number: 64 Ukrainian prisoners have been prosecuted on a “politically motivated basis,” he said.
There is a “Save Oleg Sentsov” group organizing on social media, which is putting together demonstrations for the release of Oleg Sentsov and all Ukrainian political prisoners in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup which will shockingly be held in Russia. Protests for June 1-2 to “show the red card” to Putin are being planned in cities around the world. Separately, a protest in Times Square in New York City is being planned for May 26.
While visiting Kyiv, the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, joined the #FreeSentsov global campaign by posting a picture of herself holding the hashtag on a placard.
The film industry is standing behind their colleague, Oleg Sentsov. The European Film Awards backed the “Save Oleg Sentsov” groups actions planned for June 1-2 for the release of all 64 Ukrainian political prisoners.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has called on the Government of Canada to immediately implement sanctions against Russian officials responsible for deplorable violations of inalienable human rights. Canada has a Magnitsky law and has full power to sanction corrupt Russian officials to grossly abuse the human rights of Ukrainians. Canada also will host the Group of Seven meeting this year, and sets the agenda for the leading industrialized nations, and can make the consequences of Russia’s uncheck invasion of Ukraine a top priority for consideration.
The State Department of the United States joined the #FreeSentsov campaign, and included demands for Russia to free Alexander Kolchenko and Volodymyr Balukh and all Ukrainian political prisoners.
Alexander Kolchenko was abducted by Russians and made a hostage at the same time as Oleg Sentsov. Like his compatriot, Alexander Kolchenko has been put on a “shuttle” between different prisons in Russia, so that his lawyer, his family, and human rights advocates cannot keep track of him. The Russians are tormenting both Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov.
Volodymyr Balukh was made a hostage of the Russian invasion-occupation regime of Ukraine’s Crimea on 8 December 2016. He had committed the ‘crime’ of flying the Ukrainian flag over his house. Volodymyr Balukh has been on hunger strike for 66 days against the illegitimacy of his imprisonment and the stupidity of his ‘conviction’ for a terrorism-related crime. Volodymyr is a Ukrainian farmer who loves his country. Foreign invaders from Russia barged into his home and made a crime of his natural loyalty.
The #FreeSentsov campaign and the campaign to free all hostages of Russia should bring shame and censure and sanctions on the evil Putin regime that abducted them and incarcerates them. Putin will not get unreservedly positive publicity for Russia in the hype surrounding the World Cup as long as his crimes against humanity against Ukrainians are being exposed in the press and in public demonstrations. The #FreeSentsov campaign (and #FreeKolchenko and #FreeBalukh) campaigns should also draw attention for the urgent requirement to end Putin’s War and stop Russia’s invasion and partial occupation of Ukraine.