Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Russia needs a thorough cleaning”

Natalia Kaplan, the sister of Oleh Sentsov whom a Russian court jailed for 20 years, tells The Day about her brother
8 September, 2015 - 11:47

Twenty years in a high-security prison camp is the aggressor’s sentence on a person who is taking a civic stand. In the view of many, Putin has surpassed Stalin in cynicism and cruelty. Oleh Sentsov, as well as Nadia Savchenko, has become the image of the entire Ukraine, which has fallen hostage to a mad invader.

Natalia Kaplan, Oleh’s sister, lives in Moscow and is fighting for the triumph of justice. She told The Day about what kind of person her brother is, what the state and society are doing to free Sentsov, and what finally awaits Russia, which has again set out on the path of dictatorship.


Natalia, one can see on Oleh’s example that, no matter how great and powerful a system may be, a true Personality can resist it. What kind of personality is your brother?

“Oleh and I did not mingle much in childhood – only at some family get-togethers. We began to have close relations at a mature age. Oleh is a very straightforward person. If he has made a decision and is convinced of something, it is impossible to make him change his view. He will either change it himself or hold on. It was always like this – when decided to take up cinema as a career, when he was making a film, and when he went to the Maidan. Oleh will stand his ground to the end. But still he is a very reserved person, so it is difficult to say how he was forming, what he read and watched, and who he listened to. I think heroes are not born but become such by force of circumstances. It is the current circumstances that made Oleh show himself like this.”

Do any non-relatives care about the destiny of Oleh’s children?

“It’s everything all right with Oleh’s children. They do not live in need. They stay in Crimea with their relatives. But they are unsociable and mingle with nobody mostly due to excessive attention to them. Many want to stroke their heads, express sympathy, and give a shoulder to cry on: ‘oh poor kid, take a chocolate,’ which is a totally wrong thing to do.”

Word has it that Russian liberalism ends when the question “Whose is Crimea?” is asked. Do you feel any support from Russian liberals?

“In Russia, the movement in defense of Oleh is undoubtedly not as strong as in Ukraine. There are very few protesters here. Yes, there are some pickets and support actions. We show films. But you should know that all this is under the FSB’s watchful eye, and special services often put spokes in our wheels by, for example, canceling film shows and arresting people. This is quite a weighty factor. As for Russian liberals, there are absolutely different views and attitudes among the opposition. Yet very many people are backing Oleh in Russia too, although their number is, of course, much lesser than in Europe and Ukraine. You should also remember that the Russians do not have sufficient sources of information. In search of the latter, you should mingle with the people who know the situation, do not shout ‘Crimea is ours!’ and know about repressions. Sometimes you say the name of Sentsov to somebody, but they just know nothing about him. Access to information is extremely restricted in Russia. For you should first know what and where to look for. The influence of television and the Russian media in general is powerful, and this forms wrong reference points in people.”

When Oleh Sentsov was on trial, almost all the noted Western filmmakers expressed their support for him. The Russian cultural milieu did not take a similar stand. What is the current reaction of Oleh’s Russian colleagues to the passed sentence?

“Oleh perhaps has no constant support from cultural figures. There are a few filmmakers who always inquire and speak about him. But, let me say it again, they are just a few. Nothing is said in support of Oleh at festivals. Film director Askold Kurov once gathered people for this purpose. Pavel Bardin is closely watching the destiny of Oleh – I think he is the most active filmmaker to do so. Film critic Andrei Plakhov has also been taking an active part in supporting my brother. Zvyagintsev also expressed his attitude shortly before the sentence was passed. But it would be wrong to say that it is a mass movement.”

But these people arouse a hope that a part of Russians have a sound-minded perception of reality. Do you think it is realistic that the Russians will rip the veil of a crazy desire to avenge themselves on somebody for their own inadequacy off their blinkered brains in the foreseeable future?

“Russia has gone mad. I have no idea what is going on in the head of a psycho and how he is going to live in the future.”

Incidentally, it goes mad periodically – czarism, Stalinism, and now Putinism.

“The cause of this is amorphousness and absence of a civil society, when everything ‘is no concern of mine.’ In reality, Putin is not at fault – it just makes no difference for Russians. They are a milieu which allows dictatorship and lawlessness to flourish. They don’t care about what is going on around. And this is terrible.”

Did Crimea at first differ mentally from the rest of Ukraine?

“I have never pondered on this, even now. Do I differ from the rest of Ukrainians? I can’t understand this at all. There are good and bad people. Unfortunately, bad people are concentrated now next to me in Moscow. All this depends after all on the conditions in which man and society are formed.”

Many people from Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea were both on the Maidan and on the anti-Maidan. But those on the Maidan came there by themselves, while those on the anti-Maidan were bussed there.

“I don’t think we should tar everyone with the same brush. Oleh went to the Maidan because he is a man who will never shut his eyes to an injustice. He could not possibly remain indifferent in that situation. He will never deny anybody help and support. Moreover, he sincerely did and does believe in the Maidan’s ideas. Oleh and I used to talk politics even before these events, and he was always saying that Putin was a dictator, there was nothing good in his policies, and all this was fraught with terrible consequences. I say it again this was well before the Maidan and the war. So, it is not surprising that a Crimean went to the Maidan, not to the anti-Maidan. The fact that people were coming to the Maidan by themselves and were bussed to the anti-Maidan only proves that those who supported the Maidan had views of their own, which nobody had imposed on them. They are people with their own attitude, which is a sign of civil society.”


You said the Russians are indifferent. There was a similar situation in the Donbas, where the majority was apathetic and Russia in fact imposed a war on us without asking the local population. So, apathy resulted in a tragedy. You once said that repressions would only be on the rise in Russia. Do you think it is likely that Putin’s system will break down in the foreseeable future?

“It is obvious that Putin’s system is rotting away very fast. Neither I nor Oleh have the faintest doubt that it will collapse. The question is different: how will it collapse? I have noticed that people in Moscow no longer cry out ‘Crimea is ours!’ The grassroots begin to ponder over things and see that they lack money. They begin to think and note the obvious absurdity of the situation, which they did not a year ago. It’s difficult for me to speak about Crimea because I haven’t been there since the occupation.

“The world must continue imposing sanctions. Otherwise we in Russia will run wild and shove farther than Ukraine. As for those who live inside Russia and stay free, it is very difficult for them to take any resolute actions because everything is under the FSB’s control. But one should be prepared to help at least those who need this. It is wrong to dump one another. One should be prepared to do something when it comes to the crunch. Simply, there are very few people who want and are ready to do and change something, are really concerned about their country, and won’t give in to propagandistic ravings. It is very difficult to expect some real results from them, for it is not only our ‘tsar’ who has gone crazy. We should help free political prisoners and save their children.”

Do you personally feel in Moscow any pressure on the part of Russian special services or perhaps pro-Russian activists?

“We are ‘warring’ with the FSB only. No Orthodox activists or Cossacks harass us. They can usually be found where there is an investigative committee. But the FSB is ubiquitous. You gradually get used to this, learn to identify police spies and see that your phone is being tapped. You begin to filter all this. In the course of time, you begin to take a humorous view of these things. It was unpleasant when the show of films in support of Oleh was canceled due to a bomb scare in the movie theater and the whole neighborhood was given a hard time. It was the FSB, not ordinary people, in action. It makes no difference to ordinary people – they pretend that nothing is happening.”


The Ukrainian Nadia Savchenko is a soldier, a citizen of Ukraine, who was defending her land. Oleh Sentsov is a creative personality who was showing and defending his civic stand. Why does the Kremlin consider them so dangerous?

“As for the arrest of Oleh, I think the human factor was at play in this case. It is mutual protection among those who know they can go scot-free. These people framed up the Sentsov case to get a promotion. I am sure those who organized this did not want it to draw a wide response. In the case of Nadia Savchenko, some journalists were killed and a scapegoat was needed. So, they pounced on the captive Ukrainian lady pilot. But in Crimea, there was no subject of inquiry at the very outset, and the uniformed careerists just decided to ‘earn one more star.’ But they eventually failed to break the man down. Oleh began to resist, and the case gained publicity.”

Is the world taking active steps to have Sentsov and Kolchenko freed?

“The West is raising the question of their release. Oleh’s name sounds at various summits. But I don’t know what is going on in the sidelines. I only know basic points. Let people do their job. There is a system, and competent people know what is to be done at each stage.”

We always inform our readers about the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s actions in the Sentsov case. Maybe, you know some details?

“The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine is going to advance the ‘Sentsov-Kolchenko list’ by analogy with the ‘Magnitsky list’ against the people who took part in this process. This list needs to be improved, for it is somewhat ‘raw’ now. The matter is raised at all international meetings and negotiations. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to watch every step of the state or a politician in this matter because there are so many other things around. But I can see that the movement is very strong.”

We have thousands killed in the Donbas, tens of thousands of the crippled, occupied territories, and ruined buildings. This is the result of Putin’s aggression against an absolutely peaceful territory. The West is aware of this, and the public often speaks about an international trial of Putin. Do you think a trial like this is possible?

“I do not rule out a Hague court trial. Naturally, I would like to see this and hope that this will occur sooner or later. For justice must prevail. Of course, there are underwater stones, double standards, and under-the-carpet games. And, frankly speaking, I am not sure that Putin will end up in the dock.”

If Putin goes, will the system itself go too?

“No! In any case, it will not go at once. For the point is not only in it, but also in the mentality of the masses. So many things must be cleaned up. Russia needs a ‘thorough cleaning.’ It is necessary to clean up all structures, knock some sense into people’s heads and teach them to build a civil society. Nothing will change in Russia unless a civil society is formed. There will still be lawlessness, rampant corruption, and dictatorship.

“People must feel that they are independent. There must be a situation, in which the people will see that nobody else will decide anything for or take care of them. This will be a step towards maturity. The main thing is to explain how important it is to respect both yourself and someone else. If people learn to respect themselves, they will no longer allow being robbed and humiliated. Then individuals will never remain indifferent to injustice and will never leave somebody else’s troubles unattended.”

By Valentyn TORBA, The Day