NP-UN Western Bureau.
An Edmonton playwright has started an online Parliamentary petition intended to spur direct action by the Canadian government in support of Ukrainian political prisoners including: filmmaker Oleg Sentsov; Oleksandr Shumko; and Volodomyr Balukh.
“I hope to demonstrate that Canadians wish to uphold our country’s reputation as a leader of international human rights. Recently our government has made statements and tweets calling for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners. I believe our government should take direct action by employing economic and diplomatic sanctions, including measures outlined in the Magnitsky Act, to secure their freedom. Canada must hold Putin and his government accountable for the violations of international law and human rights of the dozens of Ukrainian political prisoners currently being held in Russia,” stated Lianna Makuch, a 29-year-old second generation Ukrainian Canadian theatre artist. She is the playwright of Blood of Our Soil, a new play inspired by her grandparent’s experiences in Soviet Ukraine, and by stories from the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.
“I was born in Canada and raised in the Ukrainian culture. I grew up alongside my grandparents who emigrated from Ukraine during WWII, and who personally experienced the effects of Soviet oppression. My family fought hard for and believed steadfastly in a sovereign Ukraine. As Russian aggression continues in Eastern Ukraine today, and Crimea remains illegally occupied, I feel personally and politically compelled to take action through my work as an artist and as an activist for my ancestral homeland.”
“While travelling in Eastern Ukraine to research Blood of Our Soil, I interviewed more than 50 people who have been directly impacted by Russian occupation in the Donbas. This included ATO veterans, mothers living in centres for Internally Displaced People, and pensioners living across from a minefield only 8 km from the war’s front line. Many of these people graciously told me their experiences so I could for share their stories with Canadians. They then thanked me for ‘not forgetting’ them. I will not forget these people.
“The political prisoners are also victims of Putin’s senseless occupation of Ukraine. And we must also not forget them. We must ask our government to take action on behalf of all Canadians. The Canadian government must hold the Russian government responsible for its violations of international law, and international human rights, and release Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Shumko, and Volodomyr Balukh,” she added.
On May 14, Sentsov began a hunger strike, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners.
Western governments and rights organizations have called for Sentsov to be released, and the Russian human rights group Memorial considers him to be a political prisoner.
The petition is sponsored by Edmonton Strathcona MP Linda Duncan.
“I am honoured to be asked to sponsor an online petition in the House of Commons from Canadians calling for Canada to demand that Russia release political prisoner Ukrainian film maker Oleg Sentsov. It is abhorrent to charge him with fabricated charges of terrorism for just speaking out against the illegal Russian invasion and annexation of his homeland of Crimea. Canada must seek the voices of other nations to demand his release and those of other detained Ukrainians. We must all speak out for Mr. Sentsov who has suffered beatings and torture and over 100 days of fasting in support of other imprisoned Ukrainians,” said Duncan.
The petition can be found at https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Home/Index., or change.org by searching “Free Ukrainian Political Prisoners,” or https://www.change.org/p/chrystia-freeland-free-ukrainian-political-prisoners.
Speaking with New Pathway – Ukrainian News in Kyiv, August 23, Arif Virani, Parkdale – High Park MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism), said Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners are “raising the flag, they are literally just denouncing the illegal annexation and invasion (of Crimea)”.
He added that Canada must keep up the moral and public pressure on Russia to end human rights abuses.
“We can keep the focus on it. I mean sometimes people say that that is not enough but i think the second foreign strongmen think that the world is no longer watching them is when you can have the most dangerous consequences and the most dangerous result. He (Sentsov) has been fasting for 100 days. I have no doubt that the fact that the whole world is watching and demanding his release has a tempering effect on the behaviour of the Russian authorities,” Virani added.
Makuch travelled to parts of eastern Ukraine in October 2017 to develop Blood of Our Soil. She will be retuning this fall to continue its development with a Kyiv-based theatre company titled Wild Theatre (Дикий Театр). Following a staged reading, they will invite feedback from Ukrainian residents who have been affected by the war including soldiers and displaced people. Blood of our Soil will be premiered in Toronto early March 2019.