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Poroshenko Praises Campaign For Jailed Ukrainian Filmmaker

Posters of Oleh Sentsov during an action in support of Ukrainians illegally imprisoned in Russia held in Kyiv on June 2.
Posters of Oleh Sentsov during an action in support of Ukrainians illegally imprisoned in Russia held in Kyiv on June 2.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has expressed gratitude for an international campaign demanding the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who opposed Moscow's 2014 seizure of Crimea and is now on hunger strike in a Russian prison.

Poroshenko said on Facebook on June 2 that he is "grateful to everyone who joined" the call for Sentsov's release, denouncing what he called the Kremlin's "lawlessness and totalitarian methods."

"We will continue to fight for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners and hostages" in Russia, Crimea, and areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists, Poroshenko said.

Petro Poroshenko
Petro Poroshenko

​Sentsov, who is a native of Crimea, is currently serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

His supporters across the globe on June 1 began the #SaveOlegSentsov campaign ahead of this month's World Cup soccer competition in Russia.

The U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) joined in the campaign, saying on Twitter that Sentsov is a "victim of Russia's campaign to silence those speaking out against its occupation of Crimea."

Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries in the United Nations. Moscow defends the referendum as a legitimate act of self-determination.

The land grab followed the ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014 after months of street protests.

Sentsov, 41, was arrested in May 2014 on suspicion of planning fire-bombings of pro-Russian organizations in Crimea. A Russian court convicted him on multiple terrorism charges in August 2014.

Oleh Sentsov at his sentencing in 2015
Oleh Sentsov at his sentencing in 2015

Sentsov has denied all charges against him, saying that a "trial by occupiers cannot be fair by definition."

Russian politician and celebrity Ksenia Sobchak told Current Time, the Russian-language TV network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that she spoke to Sentsov in a video call on May 31 and tried to persuade him to stop his hunger strike. She said he refused.

"I am not interested in the exchange, I made a decision, I thought about it for a long time, I am the person who is going to the end," Sobchak quoted Sentsov as saying.

"He looks very bad, he is very thin, his cheeks are pale, pale. But very confident in his decision," Sobchak told Current Time.

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    RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service has seen its audience grow significantly since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022 and is among the most cited media outlets in the country. Its bold, in-depth reporting from the front lines has won many accolades and awards. Its comprehensive coverage also includes award-winning reporting by the Donbas.Realities and Crimea.Realities projects and the Schemes investigative unit.