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29 Sep, 2019 08:22

Hey, NYT! If Sentsov is living proof that Crimean Russians never wanted to be with Russia, how come he says otherwise?

Hey, NYT! If Sentsov is living proof that Crimean Russians never wanted to be with Russia, how come he says otherwise?

Oleg Sentsov, whose imprisonment in Russia made him a figurehead for the country’s critics, is now free to talk to the media but – surprise! – not everything he says fits the narratives favored by those who praise him.

Turning an individual into a symbol for a political cause always carries the risk that the person won’t live up to expectations. A Crimean-born ethnic Russian, Sentsov rose to international prominence as a ‘prisoner of conscience,’ whose opposition to the ‘Russian annexation of Crimea’ led to an ‘unfair’ 20-year prison term. The hashtag #FreeSentsov popped up throughout the world, while movie celebrities made public statements to support him.

Sentsov’s name is currently in the headlines after he was released as part of a prisoner swap between Moscow and Kiev, a move made possible by the election of a new president in Ukraine. Now a free man, he is preparing to receive his Sakharov Award from last year, and is spending time giving interviews. Naturally, his story is back in the papers, and some coverage is more eulogistic than others.


For example, the New York Times said that Sentsov “infuriated the Kremlin by insisting that he and fellow Russian-speakers in Crimea never wanted or needed to be saved,” and was put in jail “for that and other outspoken heresies – all the more potent because they come from an ethnic Russian, not a Ukrainian nationalist.”

The idea that Russia somehow forced the people of Crimea (over 90 percent of them) to vote at gunpoint for rejoining Russia in 2014, and that Sentsov suffered because he dared to speak out while others kept mum is simply not true. Just ask Sentsov himself.

“Did you feel like Crimea was always aligned with Russia or is that a myth?” the activist was asked by a Radio Free Europe journalist in an interview published this week. “Unfortunately that was always true,” was his response.

[Crimea] never was fully Ukrainian.

Sentsov blames Kiev for this. “Some of the things were done [by the Ukrainian government] by force and in a wrong way. Others that should have been stopped and which led to separatism… had not been stopped,” he explained.

He even agreed that Crimeans sought Russian protection because they were afraid of what they saw on TV – footage of Maidan protesters hurling firebombs at police lines, and people being gunned down by ‘mysterious’ snipers in the street – and didn’t want to experience the same kind of violence. A Maidan activist himself, Sentsov, of course, attributes those fears to “Russian propaganda,” but it’s not like all those (still-uninvestigated) deaths in Kiev were fabricated.

Also on rt.com BBC airs Maidan fighter admitting he fired on police before Kiev massacre

He is also not a peaceful thinker along the lines of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who suffered for his movies, as the article in the Times and similar publications may lead readers to believe. His sole film is a non-political drama which, despite supposedly being “critically acclaimed,” has not been aired even once by Ukrainian television in the entire time he was held in Russian custody. Not an encouraging sign for a world-famous director.

The man is certainly no stranger to violence. In another fresh interview, he said he “took part in street fighting” in Kiev and was about to travel back to Ukraine to join one of the volunteer battalions when he was arrested. The battalions were created by the post-Maidan Ukrainian authorities, and were predominantly comprised of hardcore nationalists who wanted to quash a rebellion in the east of the country. Sentsov said he knew people in those units.

Sentsov insists that nothing he did in Crimea was criminal and denies leading a cell of would-be Ukrainian resistance fighters, whom the Russian prosecution accused of trying to torch the office of a pro-Russian party and preparing to blow up a Lenin monument. But he certainly was in contact with people who wanted to “create guerrilla squads and fall back to the woods,” he admitted. Imagine how, for example, the FBI would have proceeded after intercepting such communications on its own turf.

The 43-year-old is not even the first Ukrainian to become the focal point of a media PR campaign after going to prison in Russia, only to later reveal a less narrative-friendly side.

Also on rt.com From ‘hero’ to terrorist: Savchenko arrested in Ukrainian parliament for plotting terrorist attack

Remember helicopter gunner Nadya Savchenko, the hero of Ukraine breathlessly depicted by the press as a modern Joan of Arc unjustly imprisoned by the Kremlin under fabricated murder charges? And how after she returned early following a prisoner swap and suddenly turned out to be a loose cannon, who criticized the Ukrainian government until she got locked up for plotting to slaughter the entire Ukrainian parliament? She and Sentsov even both claimed to be on record hunger strikes while in jail.

Sentsov may not end up turning from a revered figure conveniently kept away in a Russian prison into a speaker of uncomfortable truths requiring some creative thinking to manage. But Savchenko’s precedent is certainly a cautionary tale.

By Alexandre Antonov, RT

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