Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, serving a 20-year sentence in a remote Russian prison, has been on a hunger strike for more than 100 days. He was arrested by Russian forces in Crimea in 2014, had Russian citizenship imposed upon him, and was convicted on fabricated charges of plotting terrorist acts. The charges are in retaliation for his opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
The United States is deeply concerned about Mr. Sentsov’s deteriorating health. On August 21, the 100th day of Sentsov’s hunger strike, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “We renew our demand that Russia immediately release him and all Ukrainian citizens unlawfully imprisoned in Russia and on the Crimean peninsula.”
“We are alarmed,” Ms. Nauert said, “about the prospect of another innocent person dying in Russian custody. We hope Russian authorities will release Mr. Sentsov to avoid such a tragedy, which would inevitably lead to calls for those officials responsible to be held to account.”
Oleh Sentsov has demonstrated courage and a commitment to principle. In a letter from prison in 2017, Sentsov wrote these words about his participation in the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations in Ukraine:
“The last time I went to the Maidan, where people had already begun perishing, my mother said, ‘Why are you going there? You have two children!’ I answered that it was precisely because of that that I was going there – I don’t want them to live in a country of slaves.”
On May 14, he began an open-ended hunger strike protesting the unjust imprisonment of over 60 Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia, demanding their release. “We echo his call,” declared Ms. Nauert: “it is time for these prisoners – including Sentsov himself – to come home.”