Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 27.06.2018
During the World Cup in Russia, the Putin regime was hoping to hear only the cheering of the crowds and praise for Russia as host nation. Instead, the cry of “Free Sentsov!” is being heard, despite the loud din of Kremlin hate propaganda against Ukraine trying to drown it out. Oleg Sentsov, Volodymyr Balukh, and Oleksandr Shumkov are on hunger strike. Over 70 Ukrainians are known to be hostages of the Russian regime of state terrorism. The civilized world demands that Russia stop its aggression against Ukraine and release all Ukrainian prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war.
Ukraine is applying effective diplomatic and political pressure on Russia to rally the world community around the effort to “Free Sentsov!” and the other Ukrainian prisoners. Russia’s response has been to obstruct all the attempts of Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman to see the hostages, and to try to diminish the reputation harm Russia is suffering for behaving so reprehensibly on the world stage against its peaceful neighbour Ukraine.
After having been denied a personal visit with Oleg Sentsov, on June 25 Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Lyudmila Denisova was refused a video link with Putin’s most famous hostage. Lyudmila Denisova has been in the Russian Federation since June 14. She needs to see Ukrainian citizens who are political prisoners held by Russia. She names Oleg Sentsov, Volodymyr Balukh, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Stanyslav Klykh, Roman Sushchenko, and other Ukrainian hostages. The Putin regime has refused every request to see the prisoners.
The Putin regime never runs out of excuses for violating international law and breaking its promises. One of the excuses for refusing access to Oleg Sentsov is that he is a “Russian citizen” and the Ukrainian ombudsman therefore has no right to see him. This ignores the the fact that Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian citizen and Ukraine is not a country that recognizes dual citizenship. Furthermore, the illegal Russian occupation regime of Ukraine’s Crimea wrongfully deprived Oleg Sentsov of his Ukrainian citizenship and forced upon him a Russia passport. The Russian Federation has been roundly condemned by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, and most democratic nations for its practice of “passportization.” Oleg Sentsov and the other Ukrainian political prisoners held by Russia are Ukrainian citizens.
Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike since May 14. He has only a single demand: that Russia release all Ukrainian political prisoners it holds in captivity.
Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, called on Putin to release Oleg Sentsov. Putin sent his mouthpiece, Dmitry Peskov, to scorn the appeal of Europe’s premier human rights body – of which Russia is a member. Peskov gave a rambling list of bureaucratic impediments but made it clear that Russia is in no way considering giving up its Ukrainian hostages.
June 26 marked the 100th day that Volodymyr Balukh has been on hunger strike. The Ukrainian farmer is a hostage of the temporary Russian occupation regime in Ukraine’s Crimea. He was ‘convicted’ in an illegally-constituted court on bogus charges using faked evidence, but the real reason that Volodymyr Balukh is a Putin’s prisoner is that he flew the Ukrainian flag over his house. Volodymyr Balukh is on hunger strike to protest the illegitimacy of his ‘sentence’ and the impossibility of a Russian court having jurisdiction over him, a Ukrainian citizen living inside Ukraine. As a result of his hunger strike, Volodymyr Balukh has lost 30 kilograms of weight and is reported to be dangerously ill. On June 25, it appeared as if a foreign Muscovy ‘court’ in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine would consider conditional early release for Volodymyr Balukh. As it turned out, the hearing was postponed to July 5.
Pictures of Volodymyr Balukh suffering the effects of his hunger strike gained world-wide attention on June 23. The gaunt, emaciated figure in a cage was shocking to see, and reflected very badly on the Putin regime at a time when it is hoping through the World Cup to gain good publicity for Russia. Seeing Volodymyr Balukh in such a perilous state drew more attention to what the state of Oleg Sentsov must be, and why the Putin regime refuses every attempt of Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman to see him. Is Oleg Sentsov still on hunger strike and is his health and life in jeopardy as the rumours say? Are the Russians force feeding him?
Lyudmila Denisova is outraged that Russian authorities try to convince the world that “everything is OK with the Ukrainian political prisoners” even though defence lawyers who are allowed to see them report otherwise.
Every day football match scores are coming in, but the Boycott the World Cup in Russia movement is paying no attention. Every day attention is being drawn to Oleg Sentsov and the other Ukrainian political prisoners of war in Russia. Even though the Putin regime tries to drown it out, the cry of “Free Sentsov!” is being heard.