STRASBOURG, France – Almost a year after the European Parliament awarded him the 2018 Sakharov Prize, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov picked up the award at a European Parliament ceremony on Tuesday with a warning to the European Union not to trust Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sentsov had been sentenced to 20 years in prison after Russia declared him guilty of perpetrating two terrorist attacks and preparing a third in the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, and was not present at the award ceremony in December 2018, when his cousin Natalya Kaplan read a speech by the then-captive intellectual.
Sentsov was released in September after five years in jail in an exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.
The filmmaker said the prize was “for all Ukrainian political prisoners who have gone through Russian prisons and for all who remain locked up,” and he wanted to warn the European Parliament not to trust Putin.
“There is much talk about possible negotiations, about a possible peace agreement with Russia,” Sentsov said in a speech before collecting the prize.
“I do not trust Putin and I would tell you that you do not trust him either.
“Russia and Putin will undoubtedly deceive you.”
The Ukrainian said Russia “does not want to apply a policy to the European” but that Ukraine “bends” to “control it by force.”
Sentsov, who during his five years in prison went on a hunger strike to pressure Russia into the release of all political prisoners, also dedicated the award to activists who continued to fight for Ukraine and to the military working for the independence of Crimea, “some of them paying the price of their life.”
Before the European Parliament, he said that, despite its internal challenges, the EU “continues to move forward” and “he is almost envious” that the EU’s problems are differences of opinion on how to develop, reform the community project and move towards greater integration.
“Our problems are much more complex and serious,” Sentsov told MEPs.
“A corrupt, old system, without historical changes and the military aggressions that we have been suffering. Our problems are in another category.”
He said the country is the “most Euro-optimistic country on the planet” because they know “there is no other way for development and survival as a nation.”
“If at any time you want to analyze the possibility of becoming friends with Putin by ignoring us, I ask you to remember the thousands of people who have lost their lives in Ukraine, the hundreds of young people who suffer, they are behind bars and are being tortured right now, while we talk,” he warned.
Before handing him the prize, the president of the European Parliament David Sassoli reiterated the body’s call for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia, as well as that of the winner of the 2012 Sakharov, the Iranian activist and filmmaker Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was arrested and sentenced to 38 years in prison.
Also the Ladies in White fighting for the freedom of political prisoners in Cuba, who were awarded the prize in 2005, and face intimidation by authorities in the country, Sassoli said.
The European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize since 1988, an accolade named in honor of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Endowed with 50,000 euros, since then it has been awarded to figures such as South African leader Nelson Mandela, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, the Spanish organization ¡Basta Ya! and opponents of the Cuban regime like the Ladies in White and Guillermo Fariñas.
In 2019, the award went to Uyghur minority rights activist Ilham Tohti in China, a university professor sentenced in 2014 to life in prison for charges related to separatism.