Macron leads western appeals to Putin over Ukrainian filmmaker

Fears grow for Crimean native Oleh Sentsov after 89-day hunger strike in Arctic jail

French president Emmanuel Macron has urged the Kremlin to find a "humanitarian solution" to the case of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director jailed after a show trial in Russia, whose health is reportedly failing after an 89-day hunger strike.

In a telephone call on Friday, Mr Macron conveyed "his concerns" to Russian president Vladimir Putin "given that the health of Sentsov seems to have worsened dangerously, and the importance that Russia urgently finds a humanitarian solution to the situation", the Élysée Palace said in a statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said only that the two leaders had discussed Sentsov among other issues, including the war in Syria.

They spoke amid a fresh international push for the release of Sentsov, who in 2015 was sentenced to 20 years in jail by a Russian military court for allegedly plotting terror attacks in retaliation for Moscow’s annexation of his native Crimea the previous year.


‘Show trial’

He called the charges politically motivated and international rights groups denounced the “show trial”, noting that Sentsov was convicted even though the key prosecution witness said he had testified against the filmmaker under duress.

Sentsov (42) is now held in a jail known as the “Polar Bear” at Labytnangi inside the Arctic Circle, where he went on hunger strike in May to pressure Russia to release 64 Ukrainians whom he calls political prisoners.

Natalya Kaplan, Sentsov's cousin, said this week that a letter she received from him through his lawyer revealed that he was in a "catastrophically bad" situation. "He wrote that the end is near – and he wasn't talking about his release," she said.

Russian officials subsequently sent photographs to their Ukrainian counterparts showing Sentsov looking gaunt but describing his condition as “satisfactory”. It is unclear when the pictures were taken.

‘Low pulse rate’

His lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, said his client looked "worse in reality". Earlier, he said Sentsov had lost about 30kg, was suffering from anaemia and had developed an extremely low pulse rate of about 40 beats per minute.

"The health conditions of Mr Sentsov are reported to be deteriorating rapidly. We expect Russia to provide him with appropriate treatment in an institutionalised medical setting," EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Friday.

"The European Union expects international human rights standards . . . to be upheld and all illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and on the Crimean peninsula to be released without delay," she added.

The US special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, tweeted: "Russia should release Oleh Sentsov before it has another death on its hands.  'Confession' apparently extracted under torture . . . Russia should be better than this."

The Canadian embassy in Moscow said it was “very concerned” for Sentsov’s health and added: “We reiterate our call to release him without delay.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe