Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, imprisoned in Russia after opposing Moscow's takeover of his Crimean homeland, says he is being forced to end his hunger strike after 144 days to avoid force-feeding.
"I’m forced to halt my hunger strike from tomorrow, that is October 6," Sentsov said in a handwritten statement, a copy of which was released to the media by his lawyer Dmitry Dinze.
He said Russian authorities had planned to start force-feeding him "due to the critical state of my health."
Dinze confirmed to Current Time TV that Sentsov would end his strike on October 6, after visiting him at a civilian clinic in the town of Labytnangi on October 5.
Earlier on October 5, Russia's Penitentiary System (FSIN) said Sentsov had ended his nearly five-month hunger strike.
FSIN Deputy Director Valery Maksimenko said on October 5 that Sentsov agreed to start eating and that "Moscow diet experts have prepared a special diet for him to help him gradually start full-fledged food consumption."
Sentsov "has officially, in writing, agreed to ingest food," independent news network Dozhd quoted Maksimenko as saying in an interview.
Ukraine's human rights ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said on Facebook that Sentsov has stopped his hunger strike, which she said meant he was in "critical" condition.
Denisova said she was ready to travel to Russia's remote Far Northern Yamalo-Nenets region, where Sentsov is being held.
Maksimenko said the inmate's lawyers "helped him [make] the right decision" about the hunger strike.
"He'll be fine," Maksimenko added.
However, Denisova wrote that she did not believe Maksimenko's claims that Sentsov's health was satisfactory.
"Oleh Sentsov has stopped the hunger strike. That means his state of health is critical, practically on the edge," Denisova wrote.
Denisova also demanded that Russian authorities provide the official results of Sentsov’s medical examinations.
"In Russia, they only verbally, without medical proof, gave assurances that his health is satisfactory," she wrote. "[That's a] lie. In that case, they wouldn’t have 'persuaded' him to stop the hunger strike and would not have constantly put psychological pressure on a political prisoner. A person with such aims, such willpower, devotion, and such a sincere pro-Ukrainian position could not give up."
She also said that Kyiv was ready to bring in Ukrainian or foreign medical personnel to treat Sentsov.
Sentsov, a Crimean native who opposed Russia's 2014 takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula, is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted of terrorism in a trial that he, human rights groups, and Western governments contend was politically motivated.
Sentsov started a hunger strike on May 14, demanding that Russia release 64 fellow Ukrainians he considers political prisoners.
Sentsov, 42, has refused to seek a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin, maintaining his innocence.
Human Rights Watch, citing a lawyer for Sentsov, said last month that he agreed to begin taking an oral nutritional supplement at some point in the past two months, after suffering his first health crisis.
Diplomats, as well as film celebrities such as director Jean-Luc Godard and actor Johnny Depp, have all called for Sentsov's release.
During last month's Venice film festival, Hollywood stars urged Moscow not to let him die, and leading figures in the Russian film industry have also called for his release.