“These are our people that are currently in Russian prisons,” said Oleg Sentsov speaking in Ukrainian to a crowd of over 250 people in New York on January 25 describing how over 300 Ukrainians, including a large number of Crimean Tatars, are being held as prisoners in Russia. “This is very important, and at all discussions, I begin with this question because it is the most important for me.”
On his first trip to New York, Sentsov spoke about Ukrainian political prisoners, life after imprisonment in Russia and his future as a filmmaker, and bluntly discussed how Ukraine and the world should deal with and regard Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Ukrainian film director, known for his 2011 film “Gamer,” became a symbol of Ukraine’s struggle against Russia following his arrest in Crimea in 2014 and sentencing to 20 years in Russian prison on trumped up terrorism charges. Following years of international outcry and protests as well as Sentsov conducting a 145 day hunger strike, he was finally freed from Russian prison, after five years of detention, in September 2019.
Sentsov, in conversation with Razom volunteer Maria Genkin, began by thanking everyone who supported him during his years in Russian captivity and reminded the audience that the fight isn’t over until all Ukrainian political prisoners are freed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t be defeated militarily, Sentsov said. Putin seeks acceptance and a seat at the table with world leaders, “we shouldn’t give this to him,” he said. Ukrainians should be telling the world about Putin’s intentions, actions, and his true face, he added, because Putin doesn’t want to see an independent Ukraine.
Sentsov has lived through critical moments in recent Ukrainian history. When protests began on the Maidan in Kyiv in 2013-2014 against then President Viktor Yanukovych, Sentsov was an active participant, viewing it as a key moment in Ukrainian history. Many Crimeans were against annexation, he said, but were scared and remain scared to speak out against Russia.
When asked about his own political future, Sentsov said he doesn’t harbor ambitions for political office and won’t be throwing his support behind any Ukrainian politicians or political parties.
Since his release, Sentsov has been catching up on five years worth of movies and planning his own creative work with a goal of making five films over the next five years. He will continue to fight for Ukrainian political prisoners.
The event was put on by Razom as part of the RazomThink initiative. Razom Think keeps Ukraine relevant and affords the opportunity for the wider global community to engage in meaningful discussions and actions with leading Ukrainian change makers. Razom volunteers have been advocates for Sentsov’s release and have held many protests and awareness campaigns for years. Many of these individuals attended the event and were able to meet him in person. Senstov generously accepted hundreds of requests for a selfie. The meeting was made possible by support from PEN America, which brought Sentsov to America to the US for rounds of meetings with different communities and advocacy groups.
We thank everyone who could join us that rainy afternoon, meet Oleg Sentsov and ask questions. Big thanks to Ira Solomko for the videos capturing the important moments. We are also thankful to Olena Blyednova for the pictures.
Short Summarizing Video
Video: Sentsov about Ukrainian prisons
Video: Sentsov about himself and politics
Video: Sentsov about being tested by glory