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Sentsov vows to fight for 'prisoners of the Kremlin'

September 10, 2019

Facing the press for the first time since being freed in a major prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia, the film director spoke of the suffering in Russian jails and issued a stark warning about Vladimir Putin.

Oleg Sentsov speaking at news conference
Image: DW/L. Rzheutska

Ukrainian film director and activist Oleg Sentsov, who was freed in a high-profile Ukraine-Russia prisoner swap, demanded justice for all suspected political prisoners detained in Russia.

"I myself will do everything to raise awareness about this problem, to keep up people's interest in our prisoners and Russian prisoners," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Sentsov was flown from Moscow to Kyiv with 34 other former prisoners on Saturday in exchange for an equal number of prisoners wanted by Russia.

The 43-year-old, who spent five years behind bars in a Russian prison colony above the Arctic Circle, was convicted by Moscow in 2015 of plotting "terrorist attacks" in Russian-annexed Crimea.

Prior to his release, Sentsov was expected to serve a 20-year jail sentence.

Oleg Sentsov gets off airplane in prisoner swap
Sentsov was flown from Moscow to Kyiv with 34 other former prisoners in the Russia-Ukraine prisoner swapImage: Reuters/G. Garanich

International reaction

The film director was a strong opponent of Russia's 2014 annexation of his native Crimea but denied the allegations of terrorism. The European Union said that the case was "in breach of international law" and the US State Department called it a "clear miscarriage of justice."

World leaders viewed the prisoner swap as an important step forward for both countries to improve ties, strained after years of conflict in eastern Ukraine.

A meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is expected to take place in the near future.

However, Sentsov warned against trusting Putin's wishes for peace. "A wolf can put on a lamb's clothing, but his teeth don't disappear. Don't believe this," he said.

Read more: Vladimir Putin's 'Crimea effect' ebbs away 5 years on 

'Solidarity' with Russian freedom fighters

Sentsov stressed that he did not hold all Russian peoples accountable for his experience. He said that Russians "fighting for themselves, for a free Russia and for Ukraine" are also "true brothers" and equally in need of help.

He added that all prisoners of the Kremlin are "people who suffer from Putin."

Sentsov made specific reference to Moscow activist Konstantin Kotov, who was sentenced to prison for four years after taking part in numerous unauthorized protest rallies.

Read more'Kommersant' Russian journalists quit over censorship

Letters from prison

While in prison, Sentsov went on hunger strike. He spent most of his jail time writing letters, books, a daily journal and a screenplay.

"Every day, I wrote a diary without knowing what would happen to me." He also said that letter writing was his lifeline.

"In jail, receiving letters is very important…You can survive without food for a day. But everyone is waiting for a letter."

Sentsov said he intends to use his newfound freedom to publish a book, make more films and continue advocating the rights of Ukrainian prisoners of war and Russian political prisoners.

mvb/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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