The Kremlin has rejected the plea from Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s mother that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘pardon’ her son. It claims that the request must come from Sentsov although this was not the case when Putin issued decrees ‘pardoning’ three other Ukrainian political prisoners. It also claims, equally falsely, that Sentsov is a Russian citizen.
The letter from the relevant department within the President’s Administration is dated 3 August, but has only now been published by Hromadske.ua. It asserts that according to Russian legislation, the application for a pardon must come from the person himself, and gives details about the procedure. There is one truthful assertion at the very end. The decision does indeed lie solely with Putin.
Of nearly 80 Ukrainians whom Russia has imprisoned illegally since its invasion of Crimea, five have received such ‘pardons’, although three had consistently denied the politically-motivated charges and refused to make any submission to the Kremlin..
Former military pilot and then Ukrainian MP, Nadiya Savchenko was released in May 2016, almost two years after she was captured by Kremlin-backed militants in the Luhansk oblast and then illegally taken to Russia.
This was, first of all, no ordinary release, since Savchenko was exchanged for two Russian military intelligence [GRU] officers, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov, who had been caught during a military operation provoked by the Russian / Kremlin-backed militant side in which one Ukrainian soldier was killed and others injured. Although the enormous press.
A ‘pardon’ was, however, required since Savchenko had been sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment on absurd charges which received international condemnation. Savchenko was not willing to ask to be pardoned for a crime that she had not committed. The official reason provided was, therefore, that the widows of two journalists killed in crossfire in Donbas, whom Russia had claimed that Savchenko had helped to ‘murder’ had asked for Savchenko to be ‘pardoned’.
Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov were also exchanged, not simply released, however here the Kremlin is illegally hiding the details, and not, it must be said, without cause.
Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, had been imprisoned since 29 January 2015 on legally nihilistic charges regarding a demonstration over which Russia could have no jurisdiction. The absurdity of the charges did not stop him being sentenced, in August 2017, to eight years’ imprisonment.
Ilmi Umerov, who is also a Mejlis leader, had been sentenced on 27 September 2017 to two years’ imprisonment. He was basically convicted of having supported sanctions against Russia to force it to leave Crimea and Donbas, though even despite the lack of criminality in such views, the occupation regime had to falsify what Umerov had, in fact, said. Umerov suffers from a number of serious medical conditions and the prison sentence, even in a low security colony, would likely have proven to be a death sentence.
Both men were suddenly released on 25 October 2017, and put on a plane to Turkey, from where they returned to Ukraine, though not to Crimea while under Russian occupation.
It seems likely that the two men were exchanged in a deal involving Turkey which had recently arrested two Russians believed to be state-sponsored killers. There is no hard proof that Russia wanted these political assassins enough to agree to such an exchange. On the other hand, the Kremlin is insisting on a level of secrecy that makes no sense unless it has something to hide.
The cases of Savchenko, Chiygoz and Umerov expose the cruel lie to Sentsov’s 74-year-old mother who is understandably worried that she will never again see her son who has been on hunger strike since 14 May.
The lie about Russian citizenship
Russia has, since soon after the arrest of Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other opponents of annexation, been claiming that Sentsov and Kolchenko ‘automatically became Russian citizens’, because they did not use the month provided soon after annexation at just four offices for the whole of Crimea to come in person to formally reject any but Ukrainian citizenship.
The hypocrisy is overwhelming. Russia has deported a very large number of Ukrainians from their home in Crimea which it is illegally occupying. In these cases, there has been no suggestion of them ‘automatically’ taking on Russian citizenship, quite the contrary, with the lack of Russian citizenship being used as a pretext to drive them from their homes. In the case of Sentsov and Kolchenko, Russia is using the myth about their Russian citizenship as an excuse to deny the men their rights under Ukrainian and international law.
Neither man has signed any document and has no Russian passport. It is of major importance that there are official Russian documents stating clearly that Sentsov was ‘convicted’ by a Russian court as a citizen of Ukraine. This is simply inconceivable had he held a Russian passport, since this which would then have been viewed as the only relevant citizenship.
On 14 August, prominent Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova visited Sentsov in the harsh prison at Labytnangi as far north and removed from his family and home as Moscow could achieve. They spoke for around two hours, although in the presence of the prison head and two other members of staff. He has no plan to give up his hunger strike, and called his condition ‘pre-critical’. She has since spoken to the media about his strength of will, and in a post just after returning wrote that she would like to pass on to Lyudmila Sentsov what an amazing and wonderful son she has.
Svetova has since described the conditions in the medical unit where Sentsov is held. They at least appear clean and comfortable enough and Sentsov himself is happy with the medical staff. Unlike the ‘doctors’ in the civilian hospital, he says, they treat prisoners like human beings.
Svetova writes that “Oleg seemed like a person who is facing a serious operation, but who knows that he will survive, because he is determined to. And as a rule, such people survive. After all they’re set on a miracle and miracles do happen.
The greatest impression from the meeting with Oleg was that I saw a person whom I had previously not known or understood. A person of enormous strength of will, firmly and courage. I’ve seen several political prisoners in my life who held out as unwaveringly, however Oleg, I’d say, is one of the strongest”.
Sentsov has been on hunger strike since 14 May, with his demand absolutely clear: the release of all Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners. He has said that he would view his release alone as “total failure”, and asks that more attention be given to all Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners.
Read the original text at Human Rights in Ukraine.