Four years after open combat erupted between Ukraine and Russia, the battleground has largely shifted to the murky world of cyber warfare, black ops, and targeted arrests.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was arrested in his native Crimea on May 11, 2014 by Russia’s FSB security service – one of the main successors to the Soviet KGB – and accused of organising terrorist acts after Moscow invaded and illegally annexed the strategic Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine following the Euromaidan Revolution that ousted the country’s former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Sentsov has denied all accusations and considers his case as politically motivated. He was convicted in Russia on May 14 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sentsov has been on a hunger strike for over 100 days, demanding the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian prisons.
As Sentsov’s health condition continues to decline the EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jourova wrote a letter to Russia’s Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov demanding Sentsov’s release.
“I strongly urge you to reconsider the case on humanitarian grounds and taking into account the international commitments of Russia in the human rights, to release Mr Sentsov. Such gesture will send the powerful signal about the commitments of Russia on the observation of the international right and human rights to the world,” the Czech-born Jourova wrote, adding that Moscow should allow Ukrainian authorities to visit Sentsov to asses his health condition.
Russian authorities, including Moscow’s Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova, flatly rejected Jourova’s claims that Sentsov is in need of immediate medical assistance, which Sentsov has reportedly been denied while in detention at the Labytnangi Penal Colony – a harsh prison compound in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, an isolated Arctic region located in the country’s far north.
Jourova responded to the Kremlin by saying “an independent medical group and provide proper treatment, as required by the European Court of Human Rights ruling of July 25”.
The European People’s Party, the largest faction of the European Parliament, nominated Sentsov earlier in September for the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award was created by the European Parliament in 1988 and named for the famed Soviet dissident and nuclear physicist. It is awarded to an individual’s outstanding contribution to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Previous winners have included Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and the UN’s Reporters Without Borders.
Sentsov’s nomination for the Sakharov prize came only weeks after Poland’s former president and the leader of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement, Lech Wałęsa, offered to nominate Sentsov for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wałęsa, himself a Nobel Prize winner, noted that “Sentsov supported the Euromaidan, stood for Ukraine as part of a democratic Europe, and peacefully protested against the annexation of his native Crimea by Russia. He was then arrested by Russia’s secret police and sentenced to 20 years in prison after an unfair trial,” adding “his (Sentsov’s) trust in democracy and his self-sacrifice in the name of others deserves to be recognised by the free world.