Director Oleg Sentsov released to his Native Ukraine after 5 years
Ukraine and Russia exchanged prisoners and hostages on Saturday, September 7th. The exchange included 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in the Kerch Strait last November, as well as film director Oleg Senstov, who was returned to his country along with ten other Ukrainian political prisoners also convicted in politically motivated trials. These include Volodymyr Balukh, Stanislav Klykh, Oleksandr Kolchenko, and Mykola Karpyuk. Overall, the two countries exchanged 70 people.
“People in Need welcomes the release of all detained Ukrainians. Our Human Rights Department, along with other human rights organizations, has fought for the release of Oleg Sentsov, who was arrested five years ago in Crimea for alleged terrorism, and one year later unjustly sentenced to 20 years in prison in a politicized trial, as well as of other Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia,” says Director of People in Need Šimon Pánek.
Only 10 Ukrainian political prisoners have previously been released (including Nadia Savchenko, a combat pilot, Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov, as well as activists Yuri Yatsenko and Hennady Afansiev).
“Previously, we helped both Yatsenko and Afanasev to ensure adequate legal representation. After their release from prison, we provided them with a psychosocial rehabilitation program in the Czech Republic and also arranged for them to talk about Russian prison conditions with European and Czech politicians and representatives of international organizations,” says Nadiia Ivanova, Head of the East European Program of People in Need.
Similar assistance, in the form of legal representation and support for the families of the prisoners, was also provided by People in Need's Human Rights Department in the cases of Pavel Hryb, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Volodymyr Balukh and Stanislav Klykh.
People in Need has been following the cases of Ukrainian citizens who have been held both in Russian prisons and on the Crimean peninsula, following its annexation by Russia, for political reasons. Prior to Saturday's exchange, there were 97 people included in the #LetMyPeopleGo campaign, which calls for freedom of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Crimea and the Russian Federation, serving combined sentences of 240 years in prison. After the exchange, 86 such prisoners remain on the list.
“The situation of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea is particularly disturbing. This campaign aims to secure the release of these people while protecting them from torture and ensuring the right of access to a lawyer and medical care,” adds Ivanova.