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article imageSentsov: Ukrainian film director blocked by politics

By AFP     Oct 25, 2018 in World

Oleg Sentsov's career as a film director was on the rise when Russia's annexation of his native Crimea abruptly changed the course of his life.

Since 2015 he has been languishing in a far northern Russian jail after he was convicted by a Russian court of planning arson attacks in the annexed peninsula.

On Thursday, the European Parliament awarded Sentsov its prestigious Sakharov human rights prize.

In May the 42-year-old announced a hunger strike, demanding that Russia free all Ukrainian political prisoners, and was kept alive by a drip.

But he called off the protest this month, after 145 days, to avoid being force-fed after extracting no concessions from authorities.

He had lost some 20 kilogrammes (44 pounds) and his cousin said Sentsov's life remains in danger because of the damage to his health.

Sentsov made his first film 'Gamer' in 2011  writing  directing and producing it himself
Sentsov made his first film 'Gamer' in 2011, writing, directing and producing it himself
HO, AFP/File

Sentsov made his first film "Gamer" in 2011, writing, directing and producing it himself on a budget of just $20,000 raised from his job running a gaming centre in the Crimean city of Simferopol.

It was shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2012 as well as several other European festivals.

At the time of his arrest in 2014, he was preparing to make a new film, "Nosorog," or "Rhino" with financing from a German film fund.

He was also an opposition activist and member of the protest group AutoMaidan. It held protests against Ukraine's Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, and took part in the Maidan popular uprising in Kiev over the winter of 2013-2014, which culminated in Yanukovych's ousting.

- 'Show trial' -

Sentsov was convicted in 2015 by a Russian military court of carrying out arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea and plotting further attacks, including blowing up a Lenin statue in Simferopol.

His trial alongside co-defendant Alexander Kolchenko prompted condemnation from Western countries and Kiev, with Amnesty International likening it to "Stalinist-era show trials."

Sentsov went on hunger strike in prison but later abandoned it to avoid being force-fed
Sentsov went on hunger strike in prison but later abandoned it to avoid being force-fed
HO, Russian Federal Penitentiary Service/AFP/File

In his final statement in court, he quoted Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov's cult novel "The Master and Margarita."

He recounted how Pontius Pilate, the biblical figure who is a character in Bulgakov's novel, comes to realise that cowardice is the "greatest sin."

"I agree with him. Cowardice is the most important, the most terrible sin on Earth," Sentsov said.

Supporters say Russia wanted to make an example of him with a particularly harsh sentence.

Celebrities including Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar and Hollywood actor Johnny Depp have called for Sentsov's release, as have Western governments led by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov's cousin Natalia Kaplan at a demonstration in front of the Rus...
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov's cousin Natalia Kaplan at a demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Kiev on Tuesday
Genya SAVILOV, AFP

Sentsov has two children including a son who has autism.

His mother begged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter sent this summer: "Do not destroy his life and that of his loved ones. We are waiting for him at home."

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