Oleg Sentsov, a Crimean born dissident and Ukrainian patriot who has captivated Ukraine and the international film world with a heroic 145-day long hunger strike, was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize earlier today by the European Parliament.
Sentsov was a bitter opponent of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula and took part in demonstrations against the Russian occupation. A year later he would be convicted on charges of terrorism in a trial that was condemned internationally as legally fraudulent. Convicted for the alleged crime of attempting to set fire to a statue of Vladimir Lenin and several offices of pro-Russian organizations in Crimea, Sentsov was sentenced to a two-decade term in the northern Russian penal colony of Labytnangi. Thus Sentsov became one of the best known political prisoners of our time and a ward of the Russian penal system, infamous for being one of the most brutal in the entire world.
The prestigious Sakharov prize is presented annually in honor of the moral example set by the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, to organizations or individuals who defend human rights. The awarding of the prize to Sentsov sends an unmistakable signal to the Kremlin that Europe considers the current leadership of the Russian Federation a direct spiritual descendant of the Soviet Union. Sentsov’s recognition comes a decade after the post-Soviet NGO, Memorial, which deals with the legacy of Soviet totalitarianism, last garnered the prize a decade ago. Choosing Sentsov as this year’s recipient can only be a deliberate act and underlines the steady degeneration of political relations between Russia and Europe.