Supporters in Ukraine and beyond have marked Oleh Sentsov's 40th birthday -- the third consecutive birthday the Crimean film director has spent behind bars in Russia, which convicted him of conspiring to commit terrorism on the annexed Ukrainian peninsula.
Sentsov, who has said he was unfairly prosecuted by what he called "occupiers" of Crimea, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2015 following a trial that Amnesty International described as "fatally flawed."
Activists on July 13 hung a banner honoring Sentsov across a bridge overlooking Kyiv's iconic Independence Square, the scene of the Euromaidan protests that drove a Moscow-allied president from power and led to Crimea's seizure by Russia in March 2014.
Later, supporters handed out "Free Sentsov" signs, and lit birthday candles placed in cupcakes, all in show of support for Sentsov and others Ukraine considers political prisoners, said one of the organizers, Polina Brodik of the Solidarity Committee.
"Our goal is to show them that we are not indifferent to their fate, we want to show that Ukraine doesn't forget its people," Brodik said. "It's also a reminder to Russia's law enforcement organs that these people are not forgotten and that we will fight for their release."
President Petro Poroshenko also praised Sentsov, whose case has become a cause celebre in Ukraine.
"You remain loyal to your principles and have become the symbol of invincibility of the spirit," Poroshenko wrote in a message on his Facebook page.
Sentsov and a co-defendant, Oleksandr Kolchenko, were convicted on charges that they burned down the office of a pro-Kremlin political party and plotted to blow up a statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in Simferopol, the regional capital. Both have consistently denied the accusations.
Among those appearing on the Kyiv square on July 13 was Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainiain military officer who was held for nearly two years in a Russian prison before she was freed in a prisoner swap.
Hennadiy Afanasyev, a photographer from Crimea who was jailed on charges similar to those against Sentsov and later freed in another prisoner swap, also was scheduled to address the crowd.
Afanasyev testified against Sentsov and Kolchenko during their trial, but he later recanted his statements, saying they were obtained under torture. Sentsov has also said he was tortured by his Russian captors.
The trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko drew international condemnation, and the case has been widely seen as an attempt to crush dissent in Crimea.
Some of Europe's most prominent film directors, including Ken Loach, Wim Wenders, and Mike Leigh, have signed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin demanding that Sentsov be freed and his torture allegations be investigated. Top Russian directors such as Aleksandr Sokurov and Andrei Zvyagintsev have also joined the appeals.
Best known for his 2011 film Gamer, Sentsov has said his jailing is punishment for his involvement in the Euromaidan movement that led to the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as for his public opposition to Russia's takeover of his native peninsula.
Moscow on July 12 declared Sentsov and 21 other people born in Crimea "terrorists and extremists." The list, published by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, includes journalists, civil activists, and political prisoners who have criticized Crimea's annexation.
The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and international media rights groups have all expressed concern about a clampdown on independent journalists and activists on the peninsula.