French President Emmanuel Macron has met with Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker who was held in Russian prisons for more than 5 years on charges many called politically motivated.
The encounter took place on October 1 in the French city of Strasbourg, where the French president addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Sentsov was one of dozens of prisoners swapped between Ukraine and Russia on September 7.
The director has since vowed to make films again, champion the rights of prisoners in Russian jails, and “struggle to counteract [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's regime that wants, in the first place, to enslave Ukraine."
"Right now, my work is here with you," Sentsov said at a joint news conference with Macron. "I have not chosen this work, the work has chosen me."
Macron noted that there were more prisoners waiting to return home, adding: "We owe them the strength of our commitment toward dialogue and reconciliation on our continent.”
A native of Crimea, Sentsov was a vocal opponent of Russia’s seizure and annexation of the Ukrainian region in March 2014. He was arrested in the peninsula in May 2014 and a Russian court convicted him the following August on terrorism charges and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Human rights activists and Western governments repeatedly called on Russian authorities to release Sentsov, saying his arrest and trial were politically motivated.
Russia is backing separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
Macron, who is spearheading a drive to end the fighting, briefly met with Putin in Paris on September 30 after the funeral of former French President Jacques Chirac, but no details of what was said were disclosed.
The two leaders also held extensive talks ahead of hosting the G7 summit in France in August.
At the time, the French president said he wanted to bring together Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for peace talks in September, but the meeting has yet to materialize.
In his speech to PACE, Macron said the summit would take place "in the coming weeks" and could reach "new stages" in solving the conflict.
He insisted talks had to be based on the Minsk accords aimed at putting an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.