Rankin and Fry stand in solidarity with Ukrainian writer on 100th day of hunger strike

Rankin and Fry stand in solidarity with Ukrainian writer on 100th day of hunger strike

Svetlana Alexievich, Ian Rankin and Stephen Fry are among the authors joining in calls for the release of Oleg Sentsov as the Ukrainian writer and filmmaker, currently held in a Russian prison, enters the 100th day of his hunger strike.

Sentsov, an opponent to the annexation of Crimea by Russia, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by a Russian court on charges of "plotting acts of terrorism" in 2014, a conviction widely believed to have been fabricated for political reasons. He went on hunger strike in May 2018, protesting the incarceration of 64 other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and annexed Crimea.

According to reports from his family seen by PEN International, Sentsov, 42, is currently in a "critical condition".

"He has low haemoglobin level, resulting in anaemia and a slow heartbeat, and has lost 30 kilogrammes," a spokesperson for PEN International said.

Because Russian authorities won’t allow Sentsov to receive any letters from his family, friends or supporters, PEN responded by organising the delivery of hundreds of letters of support from across the world to Russian Embassies in the UK, the United States of America, Denmark, Sweden, Kenya and Ukraine. Hundreds of messages of support subsequently flooded in, including from Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Tom Stoppard and Yann Martel. Yesterday (21st August) the messages were delivered in both English and Russian to the Russian Embassy in London.

Soviet Ukraine-born Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, denounced the "clumsy lies and manouvring" of Russian authorities while praising Sentsov's determination, sacrifice and courage. 

"They fear our words; they fear the knowledge that across the world, people are allied to your cause," she wrote in the knowledge authorities have been keeping letters of support to Sentsov from him. "I am writing in the hope that one day soon you will be free and able to see how many of us have stood with you from the beginning, that we read the news looking for your name, that we fear the worst but never surrender our hope. I want you to see the impact of your determination and sacrifice on so many around the world. The clumsy lies and manoeuvring of the Russian authorities only renews our resolve. In their attempts to silence you, what they have done is amplify your voice across borders.

"Today you exist in a cell that must feel soundproof. If only you could know that all around the world people are calling your name, decrying the behaviour of the Russian government, and calling for your freedom.

"Your courage gives us all courage. We need you. Don’t give up."

Scottish writer Ian Rankin wrote: "At this time I am thinking of Oleg Sentsov, who is risking his very life on behalf of political prisoners. We should remember that freedom of speech is a human right and needs to be defended with rigour and passion. Oleg may be imprisoned but his message remains free and his voice spans many continents, carried by all of us."

Stephen Fry also sent his love and said: "Your strength is inspirational. It breaks my heart to think that you are suffering so much, but like all those who love the real Russia and its people I stand in awe at your resolution."

More than 200,000 people have signed a petition in support of Sentsov. The State Department of the United States has also renewed its calls for Russia to release him, believing him to be illegally sentenced. Last week a request from his mother to pardon him was rejected; she was told Sentsov must make a personal appeal himself. His cousin Natalia Kaplan told Ukrainian TV station Hromadske she thinks the director "will certainly not".