Natalia Arno
Natalia Arno
President of Free Russia Foundation
Priority Number One: Save Oleg Sentsov

To governments and legislators of democratic countries, to democracy promotion and human rights organizations, to all democracy-minded people, journalists, and public opinion leaders.

Is the world listening?  Does the name Oleg Sentsov cross the consciousness of global leaders every morning they wake up?  It should. There is a very urgent task for all of us right now – to save Oleg Sentsov from death in a remote Siberian prison.

Oleg Sentsov, who was arrested and jailed for merely opposing Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 while making a documentary, has been on a hunger strike since May 14. Not a hunger strike to compel a brutal regime to free him, but the selfless act of demanding the release of 64 other Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russian jail cells.

Sentsov is a manifestation of our conscience. And Putin’s repressive machine is methodically killing our conscience at the moment. To save Sentsov is to save the others.  Will the world challenge Vladimir Putin, the petty dictator less and less bound by a moral compass, or will Sentsov be another name we celebrate posthumously like a Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko?

Since Sentsov began his hunger strike on May 14, many of us have been counting the days of it: Day 1, Day 23, Day 57, Day 107 today… But his health has become so dire that now the countdown goes to minutes, not days.

So, all leaders of the free world, all governments, all legislators, all democracy agencies and human rights organizations, all media outlets, all democracy-minded people worldwide should come together and put Sentsov life as priority Number One, above all other things on their agendas, until he’s released. We will all regret we didn’t do enough to save him if he dies.

It’s Sentsov’s deliberate decision to end his unfreedom with death in order to force the release the other Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin. It seems like Putin has made his deliberate decision, too — to let Sentsov die as a signal to the world that his regime is unshakable and can care less about a human life.

It appears the Sentsov case is too personal for Putin, some sort of vendetta with those who oppose to him; or perhaps Putin doesn’t have a say here because the Sentsov case was initiated by the FSB and is under its close supervision. Maybe the allegedly all-powerful dictator doesn’t dare to interfere in FSB’s business.

Like Marchenko, Sentsov is determined to give meaning to his own death. Are we ready to lose him though? What else can be more valuable for us, democracy-minded people, than a person’s life?!

So many people in the world have requested, begged, and demanded the Kremlin set Sentsov free. The Kremlin is mercilessly deaf to all statements and pleas to free Sentsov. The international community does a lot in trying to save Sentsov, but it’s still not enough. Are our voices to release Sentsov too scattered and not convincing enough? Are we sending raindrops instead of unifying into the tsunami against the Kremlin?

Last Friday, Vladimir Kara-Murza, twice poisoned in Russia himself, held the second ceremony of opening a new Boris Nemtsov square in memory of his friend, a slain Russian opposition leader. The first unveiling of Nemtsov Plaza took part in Washington, DC and last week it happened in Vilnius. Do we really want to have a reason to push governments of Western countries to start opening Sentsov plazas? Do we want to start advocating for a Sentsov sanction list? Shouldn’t we prefer to have Sentsov alive?!

Let’s all unite our efforts and act right now and act every moment. I urge the U.S and other democracies to try all methods with the Kremlin — both carrots and sticks, but with all means to save Sentsov. Threaten to impose more sanctions, but NOW when Sentsov is still alive. Or promise not to impose some. It can all be re-evaluated later. If Putin wants to exchange him for somebody – start discussing it NOW when Sentsov is still alive. Nothing is more important and urgent right now than Sentsov’s life.  I hope I’ll meet him one day to thank him for his fortitude.

285