A lawyer for Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who opposed Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and is now in prison in Russia, says his client is "serious" about a strict hunger strike he began on May 14 and that he "plans to see it to the end."
Lawyer Dmitry Dinze told RFE/RL late on May 16 that he had spoken with Sentsov, who is being held in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, and that Sentsov told him he had timed his hunger strike to correspond with Russia's hosting of the 2018 soccer World Cup championship from June 14 to July 15.
"During our meeting, he told me: 'If I die ahead of the championship or during it, there will be an outcry in favor of other political prisoners,'" Dinze said.
Sentsov is demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens that he considers to be political prisoners in Russia. Dinze said Sentsov was not demanding his own release, although the Memorial human rights group has declared him a political prisoner and international organizations have called for his release.
The 41-year-old Sentsov, a native of Crimea, is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated. He was arrested in Crimea in May 2014 and accused of planning arson attacks on pro-Russian organizations in the annexed Ukrainian region.
Dinze said Sentsov had been "preparing" for his hunger strike for the last six weeks by refusing food parcels from relatives and reducing his consumption to the minimum.
Sentsov has been visited by human rights officials of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and he rejected their pleas that he cancel his protest, Dinze said. Sentsov has been moved into an isolated cell and is being monitored by doctors.
Sentsov's cousin, Moscow-based journalist Natalya Kaplan, told RFE/RL that Sentsov's effort might be in vain because "Ukraine is not doing enough to secure the release of its political prisoners."
Volodymyr Balukh, a pro-Kyiv activist imprisoned by Russian authorities in Crimea in another politically charged case, has been on a hunger strike for nearly two months.