The Precedent of Sentsov
On May 11th, the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) arrested a Ukrainian film director named Oleg Sentsov. They accused him of preparing a terrorist attack in Crimea. Sentsov is a Crimean, a former businessman (he used to own a computer club and was a famous gamer) and an activist of the Simferopol AutoMaidan (the activity of the auto owners aimed at detecting titushki and thugs in the city, picketing residences of odious officials and delivering supplies to the protesters during the Maidan revolution).
According to statements by his friend Kateryna Sergatskova, a reporter for Ukrainska Pravda who is also a Russian citizen, Oleg was among those who tried to help the local supporters of unity with Ukraine. She says that for this purpose, Sentsov postponed the preparation for his next feature film, Rhino, for which he won the competition held by the Ukrainian State Film Agency and was entitled to receive state funding (Rhino also won the European call for proposals at the Sofia festival and the competition among projects for Ukrainian feature films at the Odessa International Film Festival).
Sentsov became well-known due to the film Gaamer. The film was distinguished by juries from several international film festivals, including the Odessa International Film Festival and the International Film Festival in Khanty-Mansiysk in Russia. The film participated in prestigious independent film festivals such as the International Film Festival in Rotterdam (2011 was its world premiere), the competition programme of the International Film Festival “GoEast” in the German city of Wiesbaden and was also screened during Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival.
At four o’clock in the morning of May 11th, Oleg Sentsov made a call and told his colleagues that he was being arrested. After that, all contact with him was lost. Prior to Sentsov, a local activist named Gennadiy Afanasiev was detained (a young lawyer who initiated recording a video in support of Ukrainian unity) and on May 16th, another activist with left views, Aleksander Kolchenko, was arrested on the street in open daylight.
Sentsov was raising his two children by himself – 12-year-old Alina and 9-year-old Vlad, who suffers from autism. Sentsov is being held in Crimea, but his relatives and colleagues are not allowed to see him. Any communications with him is made only through his Moscow attorney Dmitry Dinze – who defended the Bolotnaya Square prisoners and Pussy Riot in Russia. Senstov was scheduled to be transported to Lefortovo prison in Moscow. However, at the moment that this article was being written, Sentsov remained in Crimea.
Support for Oleg Sentsov was shown by the union of filmmakers of Ukraine as well as the Russian film union Kinosoyuz. The latter made a statement about “the serious damage to the image of our country on the international stage” in connection with Sentsov’s arrest and demanded his immediate release. During the Cannes film festival, film director Sergei Loznitsa began his press conference with an appeal to help release Sentsov. According to him, he perceives the news about Sentsov’s arrest as “absolute savagery”. Loznitsa wrote that with Sentsov’s arrest, “The world has stopped at this point. And any other talk about films has no sense.” The ministry of foreign affairs of Ukraine also issued an open statement to the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation.
The incident with Oleg Sentsov is only the most known and illustrative of a number of disgraces that Russia has brought to the occupied Crimea. The expulsion of the priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the observation of Crimean Tatars in mosques, the denial of access to Crimea to the leader of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People with the prohibition to enter “Russia” for five years, the atrocious beating and robbery of Osman Pashayev, a journalist, and his colleagues on Memory Day of Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan (May 18th) – this is a mosaic which, according to Kateryna Sergatska, has turned a free southern city into a place where every civic-minded person may be accused of terrorism: “Anyone who thinks differently is a terrorist with a grenade in his hand”.
The presented examples demonstrate the pressure and repressions from the occupational authorities of the Russian state. There are, however, other examples when pro-Ukrainian activists are threatened by their neighbours. Natalia Krasniakova, for example, a resident of Yalta, now lives in fear. Her son, Bogdan, was the only one among graduating pupils to choose his final exams in Ukrainian. The head teacher’s reaction to this decision was: “You have no future!” Natalia supported her son and became known in Ukrainian social networks. Now, Natalka is terrorised by her neighbours, who block the gateway from her house and write vulgarity on her fence and house. The local militia, that is the Russian police still wearing Ukrainian uniforms, do nothing to protect her against such outrageous acts.
The decision on Oleg Sentsov’s fate may directly influence the situation of the pro-Ukrainian citizens in Crimea. If he is released, life will be easier for the “thousands” now detained, figuratively speaking, with him in the region. If he is not released, it will be even worse than now; when even defending their rights as Ukrainian citizens is already not so easy.
Translated by Olena Shynkarenko
Roman Kabachiy is a Ukrainian historian and journalist.