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“Society must be pushing”

Sister of detained Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov Natalia Kaplan on the prospects of her brother’s court trial and the state of the Russian society
10 September, 17:51

On September 9 the Week of Ukrainian Cinema to Support Oleh Sentsov, organized by Ukrainian filmmakers, in particular producer Hanna Palenchuk, was over. The money raised from selling of the tickets to films will be given to the relatives of Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov. It will be reminded that Sentsov was detained on May 11 in Simferopol, as well as Oleksandr Kolchenko, Hennadii Afanasiev, and Oleksii Chernii who are still being kept in Lefortovo Prison and who are accused of preparing terrorist acts.

Kyiv’s Kinopanorama has already shown eight Ukrainian films (Gamer by Oleh Sentsov, Haytarma by Akhtem Seitablaev, Ivan Syla by Viktor Andriienko, The Leader by Oles Sanin, etc.), which gathered for the most part the halls only to the half. The director’s sister Natalia Kaplan, who is involved in organization of her brother’s defense, was present at several presentations of the films. The Day used the possibility and asked Natalia about the details of the trial, and her perception, as a citizen of Russia, of the current state of the Russian society. We started with the chronology of events.

“I found out that Oleh was arrested only the next morning,” Natalia says, “Relatives called me and said that Oleh was detained. Of course, I was shocked and didn’t understand what to do. It was clear that this is the FSB. But, frankly speaking, I didn’t take it seriously, because I thought that it is because of the disorder in the Crimea; Oleh was in the Maidan, he is an activist, I thought he would be interrogated and released. I could not even imagine it could be something different. In a week it became clear that he was accused of terrorism, but still for a long time I didn’t perceive this as real thing: I did not know what to do. The Russian Union of Filmmakers responded most properly in this situation. They called lawyer Dmitry Dinze who defends political prisoners and artists. He called me, we signed a contract, involved one more lawyer in the case, and started to work. There were obstacles, the lawyers were not allowed to see Oleh, and that was the first thing they wanted to do. To see him, to tell he has a defense, to tell him to hold on and not to testify against himself. Meeting with the prisoner was the most important thing. The investigators said that he was expected to come to Moscow, but his actual whereabouts were unknown. It turned out he was in Simferopol. One lawyer urgently went to Simferopol, but he could not see Oleh there, they said he was transferred, although he was simply brought on a civil plane. They met with him in Moscow after a week of attempts. Why were these obstacles? Because Oleh was tortured, he was beaten, and they were waiting for the signs of tortures to disappear. They clearly didn’t expect him to have such serious lawyers. The lawyers are not afraid of working with the FSB.

“At the moment we are defending our position in court, I cannot say how many trials there have been. We get rejections, prepare for the European Court on Human Rights. Everything is clear with the Russian system; we don’t expect anything good of it. We pin all of our hopes on the European court. Before it we must receive rejections in all Russian instances, and that is why we are gathering rejections now.”

Lately it was reported that the term of Oleh’s detention was prolonged till October.

“Yes, they prolonged the term. And we expect that the trial which will announce the verdict will take place no sooner than the end of January. Politicians must intrude and negotiate on a political level to close the criminal action. I hope very much that the process will be much faster. It is too long to wait for the court and litigate. I am 99 percent sure that the European Court of Human Rights will free him, but when will we reach them… Did Khodorkovsky go for so long?”

Are the rest of the detained in the same situation?

“Yes. As far as I can understand, the situation of two of them is somewhat better, because they testify, openly slandering Oleh, and recognized their guilt. Another person, we are sticking together, is Sasha Kolchenko. Oleh looks the most authoritative of the four of them, he is the oldest, that is why he was ‘appointed’ the ‘organizer,’ the rest are ‘militants.’”

Did they know one another before?

“As far as I understand, Oleh knew Sasha Kolchenko and Gena Afanasiev. I mean there were not many people who disagreed in the Crimea, so, of course, they knew one another. But I can’t say they closely communicated. We were unable to find out who is Chernii and where he comes from. The rest three were acquaintances.”

What actions have been taken by the Ukrainian power? Are they enough, in your opinion?

“Do you understand what the problem is? The Ukrainian power acts within the framework of existing laws, tries to keep to moral, ethical, and legal regulations, as if forgetting with whom it is dealing. Russia does not give a damn about these regulations, both external, and internal. I don’t believe the Russian government, even if they promise, Putin personally promises to release Oleh. I will believe this only when Oleh leaves Russia.”

Is Oleh supported by the Crimean residents?

“The Crimea in fact is pro-Russian, that’s true, but even they don’t believe that Oleh is a terrorist. There are Russians who believe this. In the Crimea those residents who disagree have either left, or sit silently, because they were greatly intimidated. The Crimean voice is weak, it belongs to people who have known Oleh closely for a long time.”

What is your assessment of the support of Ukrainian and Russian figures?

“This is very good. I keep saying that the only thing the FSB is afraid of is publicity. The more we speak, the greater the pressure they feel, the easier it will be to convince them to let him go. This is very important, because be it not for the publicity, Oleh would have been killed in Simferopol basements. These methods are new for Russia. They did the same to Chechens: those who disagreed were announced terrorists. They did terrible things to them, tortured them to death in basements. The same thing is here: two people testified, this is enough.”

What are the conditions of Oleh’s detainment?

“Oleh is in the Lefortovo prison: this is a prison attached to the FSB. In terms of conditions it is considered one of the best. Even Novodvorska said in her time that Lefortovo is the best prison in Russia. The food is normal, Oleh does not complain, the conditions are tolerable, but in terms of information this prison is the most closed one. Whereas in some prisons you can pass a mobile phone (it will be confiscated later during the search, but you can transfer it), in this prison you cannot pass even a note, nothing. For example, we gathered greetings to Oleh’s birthday. The lawyer could not give it to him – he had to personally read all 19 pages aloud. This is the extent to which everything is closed there. Naturally, you cannot pass even a note. This is the main peculiarity. You should understand how this information vacuum is pressing on a person’s mind.”

Can the development of the events because of the war between Russia and Ukraine influence the Russians and their understanding of the events?

“For this Russians must recognize that their country is an aggressor, and there is no fascism. They will have to recognize their own guilt. Not everyone is capable of this. The problem of Russia is not about the patriots who shout that the Crimea is theirs, that everyone must fight the Ukrainian fascists, that enemies are everywhere, and that America has paid for everything. Surprising as it may seem, they are the minority. They are noticeable, because they yell actively, but this is an absolute minority. Most of Russians don’t care. They totally don’t care. Either the people are simply tired, because Russia is having a war with someone all the time, something happens all the time, and people are tired to feel and sympathize. Plus they are brainwashed, which is present and has a strong effect. I personally knew people who four years ago said that there was a need to remove Putin, they went to Bolotnaya Square with a slogan ‘Russia without Putin.’ And suddenly such a blow, and backpedaling. I can explain this by some very strong effect. Unfortunately, everything is very bad with information in Russia. We have the main line which is kept by all mass media. Moreover, you won’t find anything even on the Internet, if you can’t search properly. If you type in Yandex or even in Google ‘Oleh Sentsov,’ the information will appear that he is a terrorist. You need to be able to find the information. This is knowledge as well.”

Taking everything into consideration, how have you managed to make the Sentsov case known in Russia?

“The information leaks out anyway. There are social networks and acquaintances. We in Moscow don’t keep silent: we hold screenings, there was a series of pickets in support of Oleh. Of course, there is no such publicity as in Ukraine. There is small publicity, but we are trying to push through. We succeed. For example, our mass media keep silent. They have stopped to speak about Oleh, and this is good for us. Moreover, on the Internet there is information about Oleh, and the number of Kremlin bots in the commentaries is very little, although there were plenty of them at the beginning. It is clear that we are winning in the information war.”

What is your assessment of the Week of Ukrainian Cinema in support of Oleh Sentsov?

“This is terrific! It’s very good that something is being done, that people care. This unity is perceived in a totally different way after Russia. Russia does not have any of this. It is very gratifying to observe that there is a society, there are countries, where everything is arranged in a different way, not like in our country.”

Let’s hope that these efforts will be efficient.

“The society must push, because if it weakens the pressure, Oleh will perish, I don’t know what they will do to him. The society must push with such a method, politicians and diplomats must make agreement, we with the lawyers have undertaken the legal questions. The more sides will be involved, the better.”

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