Oleg Sentsov in conversation with Natalia Kaliada and David Lan

By | November 27, 2019 at 11:24 am | No comments | News

‘They couldn’t take everything from me’ – an evening with Oleg Sentsov

Ukrainian director and writer Oleg Sentsov is from Crimea. When Russia annexed the peninsula, he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in a gulag-style prison in Siberia on trumped-up charges and became the face of Ukrainian struggle against Russia. International filmmakers, human rights organizations and activists from across the world all fought for his release. On September 7 2019, he was set free as part of a prisoner exchange. He cannot return to Crimea, where his mother and two children lived until recently. In this exclusive UK event Oleg Sentsov was in conversation with Natalia Kaliada & David Lan about life as a filmmaker, director and writer, and what he hopes the future holds.

Over 100 PEN supporters, activists, and readers travelled to London’s Frontline Club for the sold-out discussion, book signing, and a screening of the documentary about the irregularities around his case, The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov.

Sentsov was joined by Natalia Kaliada, Director of the Belarus Free Theatre, for a discussion surrounding his time in prison, creating film while in confinement, and the state of free expression in Russia and Ukraine. The night began with a flash mob in support of the detained Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev, who has been detained since 2017.

Following the discussion, members of the audience participated in a lively Q&A with Sentsov. When asked what people could do to best support prisoners, Sentsov answered:

It’s very important – I’m pleading with you – please write letters to political prisoners. It means a lot and it’s a massive support to us.

He continued:

The letters and postcards meant a lot to me. There were lots of postcards from Britain.

During searches they were taken from me. It turns out there are bad people working in Russian prisons. But they couldn’t take everything from me.

So when I came home I got it all back. 22 kilos, I remember the weight. It was full of cards, notes, paper. It was very moving to me. Whatever prison I was sent to, I never threw away the letters of support.

PEN International Executive Director Carles Torner presented Sentsov with a file containing over 150 solidarity letters written by PEN supporters when the latter was on hunger strike last year, which Sentsov began reading immediately.

Sentsov was freed in a prisoner swap on 7 September after serving over five years in a Siberian labour camp. He was sentenced on trumped up terrorism charges following a trial peppered with irregularities. PEN centres and supporters from across the globe joined the campaign to #FreeSentsov, launching demonstrations, writing to embassies, and sending letters of support to Sentsov.

A stream of the event is available at the PEN International Facebook page.

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