Berlin Protest Planned in Support of Imprisoned Ukrainian Filmmaker Oleg Sentsov

Oleg Sentsov - H 2015
AP Images

Oleg Sentsov - H 2015

The European Film Academy will picket the Russian embassy in Berlin on Tuesday, the 58th day of Sentsov's hunger strike.

Directors, producers and film industry activists are planning to join a European Film Academy protest at the Russian Embassy in Berlin on Tuesday in support of imprisoned Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov.

The action, which is also being supported by the German Film Academy, national Academy of Arts and Amnesty International will mark the 58th day that Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a Russian penal colony 1,800 miles north of his Crimean home. 

The vigil, due to take place 5-6 p.m. outside the embassy on Berlin's famous Unter den Linden boulevard, will highlight Sentsov's plight and that of more than 60 other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian prisons. The EFA says more than 50 people are expected to attend.

Sentsov, whose debut feature Gamer won plaudits in 2012 when it screened at the Rotterdam film festival, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Russian military court on terrorism charges following his 2014 arrest and forced rendition to Russia after Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea territory.

The director has vigorously denied his guilt, and supporters highlight that the conviction was secured on the basis of forced witness statements that were later retracted.

Sentsov's hunger strike — timed to coincide with the soccer World Cup in Russia — threatens to embarrass Russian authorities, which have done their best to keep him out of the limelight. Russia's human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova has sought to downplay the seriousness of Sentsov's condition, while authorities have prevented her Ukrainian counterpart, Liudmyla Denisova, from visiting him.

Last week, Urkainian actress and activist Rimma Zyubina posted on Facebook a copy of a letter from Sentsov. In the letter, dated July 3, Sentsov wrote: "I am feeling normal…of course, my health is not as wonderful as might appear to some authorized human rights campaigners: everyone sees what they want to see."

The filmmaker's cousin Natalia Kaplan, who visited Sentsov last week, has also revealed he has lost 15 kilograms (33 pounds) since going on hunger strike May 14.

"The massive publicity coup that Vladimir Putin has pulled off with the World Cup could be further enhanced by addressing the issue of the Ukrainian hostages and Sentsov," Irish producer Mike Downey, EFA deputy chair, told The Hollywood Reporter. "If history tells Putin anything, especially about what effect the Irish hunger strikers in the Maze Prison had on Margaret Thatcher's popularity, Sentsov's imprisonment could cast a long shadow on the legacy of this World Cup."