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Oleg Sentsov, an accomplished Ukrainian film maker, and his co-defendent, well-known Ukrainian activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, have been given lengthy sentences on charges of terrorism, charges which many in the international community are calling politically motivated. Sentsov has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Kolchenko has been given ten years.
After pronouncing the verdict and sentence, the judge asked the defendants if the court’s ruling was clear to them.
In response, Sentsov and Kolchenko sang Ukraine’s national anthem and chanted: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!”:
The video can be seen here:
This is not the first video to come out of Sentsov’s court appearances to make major headlines. Last week, Sentsov appeared before the judge and challenged the legitimacy of the court. Not only does Sentsov maintain that he is not guilty, he does not recognize the legitimacy of the Russian annexation of Crimea, and therefor he maintains that the Russian court has no legal claim to try him.
Sentsov also appealed to the Russian people directly:
But besides all these people, there is yet another part of the Russian population that knows perfectly well what is going on. But these people are afraid of something. They think that nothing can be changed. That everything will continue as it is. That the system cannot be broken. That they are alone. That there are few of us. That we will all be thrown into prison. That they will kill us, destroy us. And they sit quietly, as mice in their holes.
We also had a criminal regime, but we came out against it. They didn’t want to listen to us – so we beat on trash cans. They didn’t want to see us – so we set tyres on fire. In the end, we won.
The same thing will happen with you, sooner or later. I don’t know what form it will take and I don’t wish to see anyone suffer. I simply wish for you to no longer be governed by criminals.
The entire transcript of the speech can be read here. Below RFE/RL has the video with English subtitles:
Sentsov’s arrest, widely seen as political retribution, garnered outcry from many leaders across the international community — and even from within Russia. RFE/RL reports:
Sentsov, a Russian-speaking native of Simferopol, openly opposed the Russian annexation of Crimea. He was also active in Automaidan, the automotive wing of Ukraine’s pro-Western Euromaidan protests, and helped deliver food and supplies to Ukrainian servicemen blocked at Crimean bases in the early days of the Russian standoff.
His arrest has caused a groundswell of anger among the European filmmaking community, with directors like Agnieszka Holland, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Pedro Almodovar co-signing a letter for Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for his release.
A separate petition drive calling on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene in the case has collected nearly 36,000 signatures.
Even Russia’s own presidential council for human rights has appealed to Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin to review the circumstances surrounding the arrests of Sentsov and a fellow Ukrainian activist, ecologist Oleksandr Kolchenko. A reply, posted on June 26 on the council’s website, says prosecutors found “no grounds” for altering the detention of either suspect.
Furthermore, Sentsov and his lawyers maintain that he was tortured in prison and his “confession” was coerced. During his trial he described his abuse and pointed out problems with the FSB’s case against him. Unian reports:
In his speech, Oleh Sentsov spoke in detail about his arrest and interrogation: “I was thrown into a van, with a bag over my head, and brought to the building of the former SBU on Ivan Franko Street. A very rough interrogation started, as they asked me, if I knew the activists, who were going to blow up monuments. They started kicking and hitting me, beat me with batons while I was laying and sitting. When I refused to speak, they began to apply the strangulation. I was choked with plastic bags. They choked me four times.”
Many times I’ve seen it in the movies, and failed to understand how people break down in these circumstances. But it’s very scary, Your Honor. They threatened to rape me with a club, take me out into the woods and bury there. Four hours later, they got tired, and took me on a search. Only then did I learn that they were the FSB. They expected to find terrorists and weapons, yet they only found my child who was present during the search, which is not mentioned in the protocol. They found money – this money belongs to my production company, aimed for shooting the film “Rhinoceros”.
According to Sentsov,Russian secret services offered him to testify against the leaders of the Maidan.
“I was offered to testify against the leaders of the Maidan and get seven years [in jail], or be considered as a leader and get 20,” he said.
“After three days, they found weapons, because what kind of a terrorist group are we if we have no weapons?.. Six months later, FSB amazingly discovered two files on manufacturing the explosives in my laptop,” he said.
“I’ve said all I wanted to say, I am no longer willing to take part in this show. Do what you want, I’ll be sitting here quietly and I won’t be answering your questions,” said Oleh Sentsov.
Today, news of the sentencing of the two men was met with more condemnation:
The Telegraph reports:
Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, condemned the sentence and promised to hold those responsible to justice.
“Stay strong, Oleg. The time will coming when the organisers of your show trial will find themselves in the dock,” he wrote on Twitter.
The British government condemned the “disproportionate and politically motivated charges.”
“Oleg Sentsov claims to have been tortured in pro-trial detention and both men were denied access to their layers for more than four days after their transfer from Crimea to Moscow,” said David Lidington, the Minister for Europe, in a statement.
The case is one of several recent instances of foreign citizens facing hefty sentences in what critics describe an effort to pressure neighbouring governments.
The plight of Sentsov and Kolchenko is becoming a common one. Last week Russia sentenced an Estonian counter-intelligence agent, Eston Kohver, to 15 years in prison. The Estonian government maintains that Kohver was on Estonian territory when a group of armed men crossed the Russian border and kidnapped him. BBC reports:
In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on Russia to release Eston Kohver, saying he had been been deprived of the right to a fair trial “from the very beginning”.
There was no public hearing of the case, the Estonian consul was not allowed to be present at the hearings and Kohver was deprived of adequate legal aid, she said.
Kohver is expected to be swapped for one of the Russian spies held in Estonia, according to Estonia’s public radio.
And, of course, another obvious parallel is the imprisonment of Ukrainian pilot Nadya Savchenko, who was kidnapped across the border and charged with murder. Last week the Rostov-on-Don court rejected her defense team’s request to move her trail to a Moscow court. Instead Savchenko will be tried on a small border town in Russia.
Her defense also presented evidence that Savchenko was captured, in Ukraine, before the deaths of the Russian state journalists for whose “murder” she is being tried:
Oleksandr Turchynov, the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (NSDC), has claimed today that Russian forces are preparing for a major offensive in the Lugansk region.
The statement, published on the NSDC website, reads:
In the East of our country activation of Russian army is taking place. This was stated by NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov in his comment. According to him, the engineering units of Russian armed forces have put up 5 pontoon ferries across the river Siverskyi Donets at the area, where the state border of Ukraine with Russia goes along its fairway, “as well as have equipped the access routes to these crossings”.
“In this way the military infrastructure is being formed to provide redeployment of additional units of Russian troops to the occupied territory of Ukraine for their combat use”, – NSDC Secretary said, emphasizing that this is another evidence of direct and unmediated participation of the Russian army in war, unleashed by the Kremlin in the East of Ukraine.
This is not the first report of Russian military bridging equipment in Ukraine.
On July 4 this year, an OSCE observation drone spotted two pontoon bridge layers near Komsomolskoye, on the eastern banks of the river Kalmius, in the south of the Donetsk region.
This is another area of the front where a river forms a natural barrier to a Russian offensive. Fighting along both the Seversky Donets and the Kalmius has been intensifying in recent weeks.
The Seversky Donets river forms a natural barrier, running along most of the demarcation line in the Lugansk region between Krymskoye, in the west, and the Russian border.
Earlier today, Liga Novosti, citing the Lugansk Regional Military-Civil Administration, reported that, after a day of attacks on Stanitsa Luganskaya and Popasnaya, Russian-backed forces were shelling the villages of Troitskoye and Novozvanovka with self-propelled guns, severing power lines and leaving 600 people without electricity,
— Pierre Vaux
News has emerged this morning that Ukrainian naval infantry in Sopino, less than seven kilometres outside Mariupol, have suffered casualties when Russian-backed forces shelled the village after midnight.
Leviy Bereg‘s Oleksandr Rudomanov reported, citing soldiers in the naval infantry, that one serviceman had been killed and another wounded.
Halyna Odnoroh, a volunteer supporting Ukrainian troops in Mariupol, wrote on her Facebook at 8:31 local time:
Night in Mariupol
We have 2 killed and 5 wounded, some very seriously. Three fighters from the Donbass Battalion, two marines, one of which is very critical and on life support, and two dead marines.
Heavy artillery smashed down on Sopino, and also on the marines’ checkpoint.
Power has been cut.
Yaroslav Chepurnoy, a military spokesman for the Ukrainian military headquarters in Mariupol, told 0629.com.ua that the attack had been conducted with 152 mm self-propelled artillery and had begun at 00:30.
At around the same time, Chepurnoy said, Ukrainian positions in the village of Talakovka, around 10 kilometres north of Sopino, were shelled with 122 mm self-propelled artillery.
He also described “very serious” shelling in Granitnoye, east of Volnovakha, which was attacked from 5:40 until 6:50 this morning with 120 mm mortars.
Chepurnoy confirmed that their had indeed been casualties in the Mariupol area, but said that numbers were still being confirmed.
According to the spokesman, there were three attacks in the area yesterday, two incidents of fire from small arms, and one from an infantry fighting vehicle, These occurred near Granitnoye, Shirokino and Novotroitskoye.
— Pierre Vaux