The new Gulag: Senstov's sister on Russian repressive system

Author : Daria Prokaza Oleh Schmidt

Respondent : Valentyn Torba

Source : 112 Ukraine

'Russian ideology is reduced to primitivism; we are surrounded with enemies, and "Rus-mother" must save the world', - Natalia Kaplan
13:14, 13 July 2016

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July 13, Ukrainian political prisoner Oleh Sentsov, sentenced to 20 years in Russian prison, marks his 40th birthday. His principled behavior, as well as the adamant position of thousands of Ukrainian victims of the Russia aggression, draws the image of a true citizen. Oleksandr Kolchenko, the other defendant of the Crimean case, was also convicted to ten years in a strict regime colony. Now Oleh serves his sentence in a very remote Russian land – Yakutia, away from his family, associates, and sympathizers. In the future, he could be exchanged for some Russian citizens, as in the case of Nadia Savchenko. Of course, the Kremlin is afraid to let Sentsov free, because this man has not broken or accepted Putin’s conditions.

Related: Kolchenko: fight for Ukraine without slaves and without masters

The interview was conducted with the sister of Oleh Sentsov, Natalia Kaplan, recently moved to Ukraine from Russia.

112 Agency
 What made you leave Russia?

Russian society has played a crucial role in making my decision. I used to believe that the Russian society could change. But I have realized that these changes are too not near.

Did you feel the danger in Russia?

Related: Russian Court sensationally releases dissident artist Pavlensky

I did not receive any threats, but the repressive mechanism of this system is very selective, and everyone is in danger. Everyone could be arrested any time for anything, without reasonable accusations.

But despite the total disappointment, there is a certain number of “adequate” people in Russia.

Of course. And these people are trying to do something to help the political prisoners. It is risky and dangerous. No one feels safe in Russia. Even if you are praising Putin, it does not mean that you will not be behind bars. Even if you are rich and famous, even if you support Putin, you might be imprisoned any time.

Related: Sentsov’s return is now in hands of politicians, - filmmaker’s sister

It looks like the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics are a small model of the system that exists in Russia. They talk about the ideology, demonstrate their flags. But indeed, it is about redistribution of the money and the property.

Exactly. They often put into prison those who support Putin, and the reason of the imprisonment is some business interests. Russia has no law and no courts. Russia’s repressions are like the millstones who destroy those who disagree to obey. There is no ideology in Russia, absolutely. They say different things. Propaganda can interpret one subject from the completely different positions. Russian ideology is reduced to primitivism; we are surrounded with enemies, and "Rus-mother" must save the world. Russians are in an informational vacuum; they are encapsulated in their ignorance. People are ready to not only fight for the rights of others; they cannot even defend their own rights!

Let us project Russian law on the western judicial traditions. So can we qualify Sentsov’s actions as a crime from a position of international legal norms?

Related: RFE\RL: Crimean Filmmaker Sentsov Turns 40 In Russian Prison

No way. What did he do? There is no evidence of his guilt. The court has only testimonies of two men, and one of them retracted his words at the trial.

Progressive people are looking toward the West and expect some kind of support. Do you think that imposing sanctions against Kremlin is an effective tool?

With regard to the sanctions, first of all, they are meant to disarm Russia. That is to ensure that the Russian Federation has no means to develop weapons. But sanctions are not effective for the release of those people who are in Russian prisons. No one fights for the Russians who are placed to the dungeons there. But the struggle for the Ukrainian political prisoners continues. At the same time, no one knows about Russians, no one tells their names and details of the cases. Few people know about their fate. We do not know the exact number of those imprisoned. Even human rights defenders, who are specifically dealing with this issue, do not have the full information.


Maybe, no one speaks publicly about those people. For example, in the case of Nadiya Savchenko, her sister constantly gave interviews attracted people’s attention.

You are right. No one attracts attention to the Russian prisoners. As a result, they have no support.

In your opinion, has the Ukrainians reassessed their identity after the war?

I am cosmopolitan. However, I understand that if there were no patriotism in Ukraine, the country would not survive.

When did you last speak with your brother?

A few weeks ago, I had a telephone conversation with him.

Do you communicate somehow besides the telephone with him?

Sending letters is just like a lottery. You can never guess, whether he received it or not. It is very problematic.

Related: Peskov: Russia, Ukraine negotiate on exchanging Sentsov

Nadiya Savchenko, by contrast, had a wide correspondence with the outside world. She received many letters. Why in the case of Oleh there are such restrictions?

This is an instrument of pressure; he is deprived of the communication with people. He cannot receive the letters from his children!

In your telephone conversations, you talk about some personal and organizational issues, or discuss some political questions as well?

Mostly, we talk about family. It is important for him.

Does Oleh hope for the exchange?

Yes, he hopes for the exchange.

Related: Foreign Ministry: Russia’s Supreme Court to reconsider Sentsov and Kolchenko sentence

Do you trust the protection that Russia provides for your brother?

I do not trust the state lawyers. But I trust those whom I know personally. Moreover, I am well aware of the dangers to which they are exposed. They are subjected to attacks, and someone get into their apartments.

What is the role of the journalists in the release of Oleh and the other political prisoners?

The journalists must ask the government about its activities on the release of our boys. Of course, this information is sometimes kept in a secret. But the government must remain accountable. This is our professional and civic duty.

And what about politicians. For example, Savchenko has joined the party. Did Sentsov receive such proposals from the Ukrainian politicians?  

Yes, first he received them. But Oleh does not intend to be listed in any party or political organizations if he cannot realize himself in those communities. His imprisonment does not let him work effectively. So he does not want to be in a list of some organization just "for show." Moreover, he does not see himself in politics. He wants to make movies.

Related: Sentsov’s film ‘Gamer’ showed in Berlin

Related: “I’m fine and under guard”: Sentsov’s letter to Russian activist

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