Oscar Winner Nikita Mikhalkov Appeals to Free Ukrainian Filmmaker Held by Russians on Terrorist Charges

8:46 AM PST 06/30/2014 by Nick Holdsworth
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Nikita Mikhalkov

The director's comments at the closing of the Moscow Film Festival raise hopes for Oleg Sentsov's release.

MOSCOW — Oscar-wining Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov has added his voice to an international appeal to free a Ukrainian filmmaker arrested by Russian security forces on terrorism charges.

Mikhalkov used the closing ceremony of the 36th Moscow International Film Festival on Saturday as his opportunity to support calls for Oleg Sentsov to be freed.

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Speaking to an invited audience at Moscow's Pushkin Film Theater, Mikhalkov said he supports an appeal for Sentsov's release made earlier in the evening by Sergey Trymbach, the head of the Ukrainian filmmakers union.

"I hope that Trymbach [has been] heard, and I hope that I am also heard," he said at an event that was being televised live across Russia. "I join [Trymbach] and ask for [the] release [of] Oleg Sentsov."

Mikhalkov, who is a noted supporter of President Vladimir Putin and has voiced his support for the Kremlin's policies over Ukraine, added: "I express my solidarity with Ukrainian cultural workers; we are not politicians, we are artists, we must be independent of politicians."

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Sentsov, an single father of two, was arrested early May at home in Simferopol, Crimea, by agents of Russian's Federal Security Service, a successor body to the Soviet-era KGB, and later flown to Moscow's Lefortovo jail.

Earlier this month, he was charged with plotting with others to blow up power lines, railway bridges, the offices of Russian political parties, a statute of Lenin and a wartime "eternal flame" monument.

FSB authorities say they found explosives, ammunition and "nationalist paraphernalia" in his home and that of three others arrested at the time. Security agents later said co-conspirators had admitted that they and Sentsov were members of Ukrainian far-right organisation Right Sector and had confessed to planning terrorist acts.

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Friends and colleagues of Sentsov, whose second film Gaamer has received financial backing from German public film funds, say the charges are preposterous. The director was opposed to Russian annexation of Crimea and supported the winter protests against the government of former President Viktor Yanukovich, but they say he is no terrorist.

His arrest has alarmed members of the European filmmaking community, with directors including Agnieszka Holland, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Pedro Almodovar appealing to Putin for his release.

Sentsov's Moscow-based sister Natasha, who has been visiting him in prison and liaising with his lawyers, said Mikhalkov's comments represent "significant progress" in the campaign to secure his freedom.

"When [Russian film director Alexander] Sokhurov spoke at out for his freedom earlier this month at [national film festival] Kinotavr, that did not go out on live television," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "Mikhalkov's remarks were broadcast across Russia and this from a man who has never on the side of the opposition. It represents great progress."

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