Zoya Svetova Visits Oleg Sentsov in Labor Colony

August 15, 2018
Oleg Sentsov in a Karelian labor colony clinic in August 2018

The following is a translation by The Interpreter of the transcript of a TV show by independent TV Rain on a visit to Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov.

Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, sentenced in Russia to 20 years of strict-regimen labor colony, does not intend to end his hunger strike, which he has held for already 93 days now. Human rights advocate Zoya Svetova reports that she visited Sentsov August 14 in the labor coloney in Labytnangi in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District in northern Russia. In her words, Sentsov himself called his own condition “pre-critical.”

On August 13, 120 world cultural figures, including Jean-Luc Godard, David Cronenberg, and Ken Loach signed a letter demanding the release of Sentsov. In a live broadcast, TV Rain asked Zoya Svetova how Sentsov was feeling, and whether he knew about such powerful international support.

Earlier, TV Rain reported that Svetova met with Sentsov for two hours in the presence of the head of the colony and two other officials. Sentsov is being held in a “nice and clean” four-bed ward, and commented on his condition:

“The doctors of the colony, whom Sentsov trusts, are doing for him what they can, but they are not making any prognoses. The lawyer says that he is being given an IV and a nutritious mixture, which he is taking. But this is a situation which cannot save his life.”

TV Rain: Zoya, tell us, please, the most important question: what impression did Oleg make on you, what condition is he in?

Zoya Svetova: You know, Oleg made an amazing impression on me with his strength of spirit. I will say that it is rare among convicts, yes, prisoners, political prisoners have I met people who had such a spirit, such confidence in the rightness of what he was doing. It is amazing.

As for his physical condition, of course he has grown terribly thin since I saw in 2015 at the trial in Rostov-on-Don. It’s like half of Oleg Sentsov, but still the same eyes, yes, laughing, the same tender, wily eyes. That is, he smiled, he and I were laughing, and he teased me a bit. That is, he was the same as I knew him, yes. I used to visit him in Lefortovo Prison, where we met in 2014, yes, that’s the kind of strange acquaintanceship we had.

Therefore, as for his condition, I’m not a doctor, I can’t judge, but he told me that he evaluates this condition as pre-critical, yes. That is, it’s a kind of preceding stage, yes, and the next stage will already be a critical condition, when his life is really endangered.

TV Rain: How did he speak and in general, how was your meeting?

Zoya Svetova: We met in the ward, in the treatment ward, yes, in the clinic, in the medical unit. There was a photograph, I think, it was published at some point. It’s a quite small ward with four cots, Oleg is there alone. There are no bars on the windows, which is rather pleasant, I think, for one’s sense of self. But it is very ascetic, white walls, there is nothing else there.

TV Rain: I don’t know, I think…I just wanted to ask you. Even so, that figure, 93 days — it’s already some kind of extreme. Does he comment on that in some way?

Zoya Svetova: You understand; after all, he’s fasting; he drinks water, but aside from that, he is taking a nutrient mixture. This is essentially an alternative in fact to force-feeding. They give him this mixture, which they usually give to people who cannot eat themselves; yes, when people are fed through a tube after difficult operations, after oncological operations, for examples, or some other operations, related to digestion, with the esophagus, for example, with the intestines.

They give him such a mixture. It’s German, this mixture. It is diluted in water, as I understand it, and he takes several spoonfuls. This sustains him. And, as the doctors say, he may last a long time on this mixture, but it’s another matter that at any moment, a crisis could strike, his internal organs could fail, and then the situation will be critical.

TV Rain: But surely he understands, Zoya, that the Russian authorities, who are infamous for their unjustified inflexibility, will not meet him halfway and not free all the political prisoners, as Oleg Sentsov is demanding? That is, he is actually demonstratively killing himself.

Zoya Svetova: You know, I am cursing myself now a lot, but the fact is, but I could not just up and say as you are saying: yes, he surely understands that the Russian government will not do that. I don’t know that he understands that. He is so confident of the rightness of what he is doing, and believes, apparently that he will achieve his goal, because several times he said, “I will come to Kiev and will read books there,” or “When I come to Kiev” — you understand? That is, he doesn’t even allow the thought, such a thought, that he might die.

That is, he understands that he might die, yes, somewhere in the depth of his soul. But you know, it reminded me of a person who is sick with cancer, yes. Here he’s severely ill with cancer, but he has such a strength of spirit, that he is confident that he will be cured and that he will live. And after all, there are such miracles, when people exactly in such a condition of spirit, yes, they beat a mortal disease and survive. We surely know such stories. So therefore it seems to me that Oleg is to some extent… He has a great strength of spirit, and he is holding up like this.

TV Rain: How much is he prepared for an exchange? Because the most positive outcome which is being discussed is an outcome that is not connected, unfortunately, to the release of all poltiical prisoners, but connected to having the Russian authorities nevertheless agree to exchange Ukrainian political prisoners of Russian origin in the opposite direction, yes, for example, for Sentsov. Did he discuss this with you, does he speak of such an option at all?

Zoya Svetova: No, we did not discuss this issue. I didn’t ask this question. It seems to me this question is entirely pointless to ask, because no one is going to ask him if he is prepared for an exchange or not. If they want to do an exchange, they will put him in a plane, take him out and exchange him. No one will ask anyone, you understand? It doesn’t work that way.

TV Rain: Does he hope for this or not? He doesn’t hope, you did not discuss this, right?

Zoya Svetova: No, we didn’t discuss this, but he is hoping, otherwise he wouldn’t continue his hunger strike. This is a person who does what he considers necessary, and without hope, it is impossible to do, you understand? It didn’t even occur to me to ask him, “What are you hoping for?” you understand? Understandably, you will not ask a severely-ill person, ‘What are you hoping for?’ He is hoping for a miracle, that is obvious.

TV Rain: Does he know the entire world is supporting him? There was just the letter with Godard, Cronenberg and the others. Yes?

Zoya Svetova: Yes, he knows. I told him about that as well, yes, and citied examples of this support.

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Svetova also added a post on Facebook:

I saw Oleg Sentsov. Thank God, he’s alive. He smiled and laughed at me: I’m a bit deaf, and he speaks softly, and he had to repeat the same thing for me several times. And that’s not easy for him; he tires quickly. He thanks everyone for the support and help. When I asked him what should be done, Oleg said: “Do what you must. That’s what I’m doing.” From myself, I will say: now the most important thing is to initiative as quickly as possible, a process of exchanging Russians who are held in Ukraine for Ukrainian political prisoners.

That will save Oleg’s life. And another thing: I would like to tell Oleg’s mother what a remarkable, amazing son she has.