This Is What Happened When a Ukrainian Film Director Was Sentenced to 20 Years in a Russian Prison

Protesters outside the Russian embassy in Kiev demand the release of Oleg Sentsov and Aleksander Kolchenko on August 25, 2015. Photo by Inna Sokolovska from Demotix.

Protesters outside the Russian embassy in Kiev demand the release of Oleg Sentsov and Aleksander Kolchenko on August 25, 2015. Photo by Inna Sokolovska from Demotix.

A military court in Russia's Rostov-on-the-Don has sentenced Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov to 20 years of hard labor in a high-security prison on charges of planning a “terrorist attack” in Crimea. Sentsov’s co-defendant, Alexander Kolchenko, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. RuNet Echo rounds up the Internet's reactions to the trial, the sentences, and their implications for access to justice in Russia.

Sentsov, a native of Crimea, is an independent film director and pro-Ukrainian activist. He denies all charges made against him and claims that the case is “politically motivated and falsified.” Sentsov has also said that after having been detained by Russian law enforcement, he was tortured, beaten, and threatened with rape while in custody. Russian prosecutors have also disregarded Sentsov's Ukrainian citizenship, claiming he was a Russian national since Crimea “became part of Russia.”

According to the investigation, in the spring of 2014 (shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea), Oleg Sentsov “gave orders to his co-conspirators” to blow up a Lenin statue in the city of Simferopol in Crimea. Investigators also claimed that Sentsov planned another attack on Simferopol’s eternal flame monument. Kolchenko has been accused of firebombing a United Russia office in Simferopol, a charge he has admitted to, while denying the accusations of “terrorism.”

Earlier in August, more than a thousand members of the European Film Academy, including prominent film directors like Wim Wenders, Ken Loach, and Mike Leigh signed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for the release of the two men.

When the sentence was read on August 25, the defendants’ only reaction, according to the onlookers, was to smile and start singing the Ukrainian national anthem in the courtroom, as seen in a video that was shared widely on social media.

Sentsov has received praise for his conduct in court during the trial, and especially for his poignant “last words” statement befote the verdict was read. Daniel Baer, US Ambassador to OSCE, even coined a new term, “Sentsovian” to express regard for the filmmaker's poise.

Sentsov's final statement was quickly pulled apart into viral quotes shared by Internet users. Some of them even ended up on t-shirts.

Oleg Sentsov's final words have been made into quotes [T-shirt: “Why bring up a new generation of slaves?”].

Shortly after the verdict became public, Ukrainians and Russians organized pickets in support of Sentsov and Kolchenko in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and even Moscow. Multiple photos from the gatherings popped up on social media.

The few remaining humans came out for individual pickets in Moscow [poster: “Your (jail) terms will be longer”].

#Kharkiv now near the Russian consulate rally in support of O. Sentsov and A. Kolchenko.

Online reactions from Ukrainian and Russian users were mostly those of shock and anger, although not surprise. Ukrainian officials, like President Petro Poroshenko and UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, were quick to condemn the verdicts.

Hang in there, Oleg. The time will come, and those who organized this sham trial will be sitting in the dock themselves!

Users compared Sentsov's harsh sentence with other crimes as well as the fates of individuals who they thought got off scot-free when they should have been punished.

And Russian sergeant Zaitsev, who killed Ukrainian major Karachevsky in Crimea, only got two years.

Sentsov got 20 years for setting a United Russia door on fire. Kadyrov, for participating in a war against Russians, got a presidency, a Hero status, immunity, money.

Some marvelled at the coincidence of Sentsov's verdict going public in Russia the same day that a former Defense Ministry official Evgeniya Vasilyeva was freed from prison on parole, after serving only four months of her five-year jail term for real estate fraud.

Parole and 300 million back for Vasilyeva

20 years of high-security prison for Sentsov


I can't help but think that they scheduled these two court hearings for the same day on purpose. As a mockery.

Echo of Moscow journalist and columnist Yulia Latynina surprised many when she said on air that she thought the Russian state had “fairly serious proof” of Sentsov's guilt and that it was justified in going “berserk” and “imprisoning a man not for what he did but for denying he did it.” After a wave of consternation from social network users and fellow journalists, Latynina relented and conceded that the sentence was “insane” and that she was “ashamed” that her country was “punishing people with 20 years” in jail for being “patriots of Ukraine.”

Some RuNet users saw Sentsov and Kolchenko's trial as a fitting illustration of the overall struggle for justice in Russia, often exemplified by the fact that the statue of Themis, the goddess of Justice, in Moscow is missing the proverbial blindfold.

Ukrainian terrorism sounds very similar to Russian justice.

May I remind you that the Russian Themis has no blindfold over her eyes.


  • guest

    “Useful idiots” in the West should read this article, maybe their eyes will open.

    • LES1

      Accused of “provoking the police to use force” by waving a Ukrainian flag

      24.08.15 | Halya Coynash

      18 months ago Moscow claimed that its invasion and occupation of Crimea was aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic Russians which were supposedly being infringed. In Aug 2015, the Russian-ruled prosecutor has warned as follows:

      “Some radical Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists are planning to provoke the Crimean law enforcement bodies to use force by placing Ukrainian symbols in inhabited areas of Crimea and chanting pro-Ukrainian slogans”.

      What kind of ‘force’ the sight of a Ukrainian flag will ‘provoke’ is not specified. The blue and yellow bouquet of flowers laid at the monument to Taras Shevchenko on Ukrainian Flag Day (Aug 23) was ripped apart within hours.

      Now it is the law enforcement bodies who will be ‘provoked’. Nor would it be the first occasion that the occupation regime is infringing fundamental rights and treating Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags and symbols as ‘extremist’ and as ‘prohibited symbols’.

      Jailed in Russian-occupied Crimea for a Ukrainian flag


      A young man has been jailed for 15 days for supposed breach of the peace early in the morning on Ukraine’s Independence Day when he and another young man and woman were only trying to photograph themselves with a Ukrainian flag on Mount Mitridat in the centre of Kerch.

      The mother of one of the three told the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission that the two young men and a young woman had set out at 7 a.m. on Aug 24 to take photos. It was this ‘seditious act’ that they were engaged in, together with an unfurled flag, when the police turned up and detained all three of them, supposedly for using bad language.

      The young people say that they were told at the police station that they’d been detained because of the Ukrainian flag and a T-shirt with the Ukrainian trident and a pro-Ukrainian message.

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