“For three years I’ve been sitting in a Russian prison. For those three years a war has been conducted against my country. The enemy is fighting like a coward, vilely, pretending he has nothing to do with it. No one believes him now but that doesn’t stop him.”
A letter from the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov has been smuggled out of the renovated Gulag where he has been imprisoned since March. Sentsov was arrested in May 2014 during protests against the military annexation of his native Crimea by Russia.
Sentsov was convicted in a military court with his friend and fellow activist Aleksandr Kolchenko of a terrorist conspiracy to commit arson against Russian government offices. Both witnesses who testified against the pair later claimed being tortured until they agreed to their statements. Oleg Sentsov also cited torture in pretrial detention. The court did not investigate these claims.
Sentsov was transferred to a prison in Yakutia, far-east Siberia, in March. This tactic is commonly used by Russian authorities to make it difficult or impossible for journalists and lawyers to contact prisoners of conscience or monitor their prison conditions.
Oleg Sentsov’s relocation was discovered when an activist received an anonymous phone call saying only, “Sentsov has moved.”
“I’m not going to state: ‘we’ll see who wins.’ I know who will win. The desire for freedom and progress is unstoppable.”
This letter marks a rare break from the silence Russian authorities have attempted to force the filmmaker into. His cousin, Natalia Kaplan, received it last month and released its contents today.
“Very direct and goal oriented, with a strong sense of justice,” are the words that Kaplan used to describe her cousin. Speaking from Kyiv, she described the letter as the only direct communication received from the artist.
Sentsov is the father of two children, but discouraged them from visiting him after witnessing the “terrible, deep depression” of prisoners whose families are made to depart once again.
“We can do one thing: hold on.”
In his letter the filmmaker called attention to Ukrainian prisoners throughout Russia and the Donbass, the area of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-supported separatists. Sentsov made clear his desire to support his country, but ability only to “hold on” for the moment.
In his letter Sentsov condemned Russia’s “cowardice” in the war. As some Ukrainians’ support for political prisoners is waning – as a prominent returned soldier criticizes Ukraine as well as Russia – Sentsov urges supporters to remember all of the imprisoned and not just high-profile cases.
The Voice Project continues to advocate for Oleg Sentsov’s unconditional release. You can add your voice to that demand here.
The full English text of Oleg Sentsov’s letter is below:
To all whom it interests,
For three years I’ve been sitting in a Russian prison. For those three years a war has been conducted against my country. The enemy is fighting like a coward, vilely, pretending he has nothing to do with it. No one believes him now but that doesn’t stop him.
War is never pretty but truth is on our side. We attacked no one and are just defending ourselves. However, there are other enemies besides the known, outside ones. They are smaller and on the inside, here, under our skin, almost native. But they aren’t supporting us. They are supporting themselves.
Some of them are leftovers from old times, times of poverty and fear. Some desire just to live in the old ways but in a new guise: newly rich and empowered. But it’s not going to work out. Each enemy, the larger and the smaller one, has different goals but we are on paths different from the ones they’re taking. I’m not going to state: ‘we’ll see who wins.’ I know who will win. The desire for freedom and progress is unstoppable.
There are many of us in captivity in Russia and even more in the Donbass. Some have been freed. Others wait and hope. Everyone has their story and their experiences of conditions of detention. Some do PR on behalf of the captives. Some really get down to work. Becoming a better-known prisoner – to get exchanged for Russian captives in Ukraine – faster than others isn’t, however, the way I’d choose.
I don’t want to pull a blanket over me. I want to remain just a surname on the list. I doubt I’ll be given an offer to leave prison last – but that would’ve been a good choice all the same. Here, in captivity, we are limited: and not even by freedom – this can no longer be taken – but by being of little help to our country while we’re in here. To be more precise, we can do one thing: hold on.
There is no need to pull us out of here at all costs. This wouldn’t bring victory any closer. Yet using us as a weapon against the enemy will. You must know: we are not your weak point. If we’re supposed to become the nails in the coffin of a tyrant, I’d like to become one of those nails. Just know that this particular one will not bend.
Glory to Ukraine!