New Pathway – Ukrainian News, National Affairs Desk.
Former political prisoner Oleh Sentsov is urging Canada to increase the pressure on the Russian Federation in order to compel its regime to stop the war against Ukraine and leave the occupied territories.
“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his regime understand only the language of strength. International pressure on the Russian regime must be significantly strengthened in order to compel Russia to end its war against Ukraine and withdraw its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory,” stated Sentsov, during his visit to Canada, last week.
Speaking with the Canadian Press through an interpreter February 4, Sentsov also noted that the Russian Federation is holding hundreds of political prisoners in Crimea and the Donbas. They include soldiers, civil society members and many underage children.
The only way to break them out is to get rid of Putin and end his six-year-old war against Ukraine.
Some in the West are doing more than others. In Sentsov’s view, Europe isn’t pulling its weight.
“They look at him through the prism of their culture and their values of the world.”
Too many European countries are too dependent on Russian oil and gas to take a stand against Putin. Europeans are behaving like good, well-behaved children at a birthday party, he said.
“Then one hooligan comes to that party, sits on the table and starts eating the cake. And they are trying to persuade him, ‘do not eat the cake,”’ he said.
“And those kids are saying, ‘maybe we can convince him to not eat the cake.’ And then the hooligan says, ‘yeah, yeah, sure’ and continues doing that.”
The United States and Canada are in a stronger position because they don’t rely on Russia for energy, he said.
For over five years, Sentsov was illegally imprisoned by the Russian regime for his support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and because of his opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He was released in September 2019 as part of a larger prisoner-swap between Ukraine and Russia after serving part of his 20-year sentence in a prison colony in Russia’s Arctic for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism — charges he denies.
Amnesty International says Sentsov was subjected to an “extremely cynical show trial” and should never have spent a moment in prison. Sentsov staged a 145-day hunger strike to protest the imprisonment of dozens of Ukrainians by Moscow.
Two months after his release, Sentsov was awarded Europe’s highest human-rights honour, the Sakharov Prize, named for the celebrated Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
In Ottawa on February 4 and 5, Sentsov met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, of Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Opposition.
Trudeau praised Sentsov, reiterated condemnation of Russia, and reaffirmed Canada’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as he welcomed Sentsov to his Parliament Hill office.
He also thanked Sentsov for “your advocacy, for your strong voice and for your commitment to sharing your story in a way that advances the cause of a strong Ukraine.”
“For over five years Vladimir Putin’s regime denied him freedom expecting him to confess to actions he never committed,” stated Scheer. “They tortured him but his spirit was unbreakable. During his 145-day hunger strike in prison, he demanded the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. His selfless act has inspired many around the world and reminded us about the power of spirit and importance of principles.”
Members of Parliament Yvan Baker (Etobicoke-Centre), James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) and Heather McPherson (Edmonton-Strathcona) co-organized a roundtable meeting with Sentsov and Members of Canada’s Parliament on February 4. Sentsov was also recognized in the House of Commons by MP Baker.
“Canada, led by our now Deputy Prime Minister, was at the forefront of the international effort calling for his release,” stated Baker.
“As we speak, many political prisoners are suffering in jails in Russia. “As we speak, Ukrainian women and men are dying, defending their homeland from a Russian invasion
“As Canadians, we share these convictions.
“So today, I hope that we draw inspiration from Mr. Sentsov’s courage. I hope that we live by the courage of our convictions,” he added.
“Here’s a real hero who has stood in the face of Putin’s kangaroo courts during his hunger strike,” said Conservative MP Bezan.
“He endured the incredibly brutal prison system that they have in Russia and never wavered in his support for an independent Ukraine. Crimea is Ukrainian territory and he was innocent.”
In public events in Toronto and Ottawa, Sentsov argued passionately for the international community to continue to speak loudly about the plight of over ninety Ukrainian citizens – many of them Crimean Tatars – jailed in Russian-occupied Crimea and Russia, and the hundreds of Ukrainian citizens imprisoned in Russian-occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk.
In partnership with PEN Canada and the Postcards for Prisoners Project, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress hosted a screening of The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleh Sentsov at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto. Sentsov also met with the Ukrainian Canadian community at an event organized by the League of Ukrainian Canadians. The UCC National Office hosted Sentsov in Ottawa in cooperation with the Embassy of Ukraine to Canada.
In Ottawa, Sentsov met with the Ukrainian Canadian community, at a meeting co-hosted by MPs Baker, Bezan and McPherson and co-hosted by the UCC Ottawa branch. He also met with officials at the Department of Global Affairs Canada and spoke at a public event at the University of Ottawa, co-hosted by the Human Rights Research and Education Centre and the Chair of Ukrainian Studies, and co-sponsored by the Canadian branch of the International Commission of Jurists.
“The UCC was honoured to welcome Mr. Sentsov to Canada, and to hear his call in support of the political prisoners suffering at the hands of the Russian regime,” stated Alexandra Chyczij, National President of the UCC. “His story of courage in the face of the unimaginable cruelty of his Russian jailers is an inspiration, and the UCC will continue to advocate strongly for the rights of all Ukrainians imprisoned by Russia.”
“The UCC thanks MPs Yvan Baker, James Bezan and Heather McPherson for their staunch advocacy in support of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression,” stated Ihor Michalchyshyn, UCC CEO. “It was very valuable for Canadian Members of Parliament to hear Mr. Sentsov’s story and his views on how Canada can best continue to support Ukraine.”
See continued coverage of Oleh Sentsov’s visit to Canada in the next issue