Oleg Sentsov wants Canada to continue to put economic and political pressure on Russia to drive President Vladimir Putin from power, in Feb. 4, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ukraine filmmaker Sentsov tells Canada keep sanctions pressure on ‘bully’ Putin

OTTAWA — Oleg Sentsov is frequently asked how he survived five years in a Russian prison, and he still can’t offer an explanation. But the Ukrainian filmmaker has an unwavering message about how to get rid of the man who put him there.

Preserve and increase sanctions on Russia, keep Russia out of the G7, and keep bringing economic and political pressure to bear on Russia so that one day disgruntled, well-intentioned Russians may eventually drive President Vladimir Putin from power, Sentsov says.

Only then will his country get back the territory Russia took from it in 2014 when it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and sent separatist militias into his country’s eastern Donbass region, he said.

“Canada is a strong country and is stronger than Ukraine,” Sentsov said Tuesday in an interview through a Russian-language translator between meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a special session with MPs and senators.

“Putin doesn’t understand talk of peace. He only understands the language of force.”

Trudeau praised Sentsov and reiterated condemnation of Russia as he welcomed the one-time political prisoner to his Parliament Hill office. Sentsov was released in September after being jailed in what is widely viewed as a vendetta by Putin.

Sentsov was released as part of a larger prisoner-swap between Ukraine and Russia after serving part of his 20-year sentence in a prison colony in Russia’s Arctic for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism — charges he denies.

Amnesty International has said Sentsov was subjected to an “extremely cynical show trial” and should never have spent a moment in prison. Sentsov staged a 144-day hunger strike to protest the imprisonment of dozens of Ukrainians in Russia.

Two months after his release, Sentsov was awarded Europe’s highest human-rights honour, the Sakharov Prize, named for the celebrated Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

Asked how he survived prison, Sentsov paused silently.

“I don’t know why I am such a person — why I am tall, why I have green eyes,” he said.

“The most important thing you need to know is I am not the only one in my country that is like that. There are many people like this, people that you haven’t heard of and that you don’t know anything about.”

Russia is holding hundreds of political prisoners in Crimea and Donbass, he said. They include soldiers, civil society members and many underage children.

The only way to break them out is to get rid of Putin and end his six-year-old war against his country.

Some in the West are doing more than others. In Sentsov’s view, Europe isn’t pulling its weight.

“They look at him through the prism of their culture and their values of the world.”

Too many European countries are too dependent on Russian oil and gas to take a stand against Putin. Europeans are behaving like good, well-behaved children at a birthday party, he said.

“Then one hooligan comes to that party, sits on the table and starts eating the cake. And they are trying to persuade him, ‘do not eat the cake,’” he said.

“And those kids are saying, ‘maybe we can convince him to not eat the cake.’ And then the hooligan says, ‘yeah, yeah, sure’ and continues doing that.”

The United States and Canada are in a stronger position because they don’t rely on Russia for energy, he said.

Earlier, Trudeau thanked Sentsov for “your advocacy, for your strong voice and for your commitment to sharing your story in a way that advances the cause of a strong Ukraine.”

Sentsov met Tuesday evening with a group of MPs and senators, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, one of many Canadian parliamentarians to advocate for Sentsov’s release.

“Here’s a real hero who has stood in the face of Putin’s kangaroo courts during his hunger strike,” said Conservative MP James Bezan, whose family is of Ukrainian descent.

“He endured the incredibly brutal prison system that they have in Russia and never wavered in his support for an independent Ukraine. Crimea is Ukrainian territory and he was innocent.”

Sentsov finds it difficult to walk into a room and accept accolades for a job well done when he feels responsible for people still in prison, “and a responsibility for my country that is not reformed.”

He said he feels responsible for “continuous Russian aggression” and that his country still hasn’t reclaimed the territory that was forcibly taken from it.

“For me,” he said, “that’s why I can’t stop.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2020.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Teachers condemn government’s actions towards doctors

“That they should be treated with such contempt is deeply disturbing”

Central Alberta centre gets more provincial dollars to deal with rising caseload of abused children

CEO Mark Jones expects to be helping 1,000 abused kids annually by 2024

Crime significantly reduced in Lacombe County subdivision when gate installed

Two-year pilot project at Westside Country Estates prompts county to adopt a gate policy

Security for empty nursing home is pricier than it would have been to knock it down

Provincial taxpayers have now paid more to mothball a former nursing home… Continue reading

Birds move into new wildlife hospital

Medicine River Wildlife Centre to host grand opening this spring

Fashion Fridays: The 8 best quality online stores! Shop the ultimate sales

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

Spurgeon records hat trick to lead Wild to 5-3 victory over Oilers

Wild 5 Oilers 3 EDMONTON — Jared Spurgeon scored three goals as… Continue reading

Bergeron stays hot with two goals as Bruins topple Flames 4-3

Bruins 4 Flames CALGARY — Patrice Bergeron continued his torrid scoring on… Continue reading

POLL: Do you think there will be funds in the provincial budget for the Red Deer hospital?

Do you think there will be significant funds in Thursday’s provincial budget… Continue reading

Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville claims Tournament of Hearts playoff berth

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Protective of their curl-life balance, Krista McCarville and… Continue reading

Gary Harris’s generosity helped shape our college, and our city, writes Joel Ward

I was deeply saddened to learn of Gary Harris’s passing. I first… Continue reading

A teen’s perspective: Ordinary Canadians are paying a price for railway blockades

The following is a letter by Alberta teenager Liam Smith to his… Continue reading

Bashaw filmmakers capture grasslands’ beauty

Documentary showcases how a unique ecosystem is surviving

Most Read