Russia: Oleg Sentsov in critical condition

Ukrainian filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike since 14 May 2018, is reportedly in a critical condition. According to his lawyer, who visited him in prison on 7 August 2018, Oleg Sentsov has a low haemoglobin level, resulting in anaemia and a slow heartbeat, and has lost 30 kilogrammes. He is refusing to be transferred to a civilian hospital and says that medical staff there have previously been hostile towards him.

In a harrowing note passed through his lawyer following the visit, Oleg Sentsov told his cousin Natalia Kaplan that he is being denied access to letters and that he is being kept in an ‘information vacuum’. He poignantly added that ‘the end is near’.

In a statement to our colleagues at PEN America, Kaplan said:

Oleg is near death. He thinks no one is supporting him and advocating on his behalf because he hasn’t received any outside communication… His spirit and strength are dwindling after three months of starvation—not on behalf of his own case but on behalf of all the political prisoners he is suffering along with in prison. He is a dad. He is a son. He is my cousin. He hasn’t had the opportunity to show the world all that he is as an artist. His time on the outside was cut short. Russians have to immediately release Oleg and save his life. Please keep him in your prayers.

Sentsov is currently being held in the ‘Polar Bear’ penal colony of Labytnangi, in Siberia, thousands of kilometres away from his home in Crimea, making messages of support all the more crucial.

Oleg Sentsov was taken to intensive care on 15 June. His heart and kidney problems have considerably worsened. When Natalia Kaplan last visited him on 5 July 2018, she said that he had already lost 15 kilogrammes and had been put on a glucose drip. PEN urgently calls for his immediate release.


Join a protest for Oleg Sentsov

Next Tuesday, 21 August, will mark writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s 100th day on hunger strike. Following reports that he has been denied access to correspondence – including from his own family – PEN members hope to deliver messages of support from all over the world, urging the authorities to ensure that Sentsov is allowed to receive them. Join English PEN and PEN International at the Russian Embassy from 11am to show your support.

RSVP to If you are unable to attend, you can still send a message of support for us to deliver – see below for more details.

Embassy of the Russian Federation
6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens
W8 4QP

Messages of support

We are continuing to gather messages of support for Oleg and his family. If you would like to send a message, please do so via and

Write to the authorities

  • Urging the Russian authorities to release Oleg Sentsov immediately;
  • Calling on the Russian authorities to respect Oleg Sentsov’s human rights, including the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment as it pertains to hunger strike and his right to medical attention, ensuring that he is treated humanely at all times and not punished in any way for his hunger strike;
  • Urging the Russian authorities to respect Oleg Sentsov’s prisoner rights and give him access to correspondence.

President of the Russian Federation
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Ul. Ilyinka, 23
103132 Moscow
Russian Federation

Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika
Prosecutor General’s Office
ul. B.Dmitrovka, d.15a
125993 Moscow GSP- 3
Russian Federation

Director of the Russian Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation
Gennady Kornienko
Zhitnaya street 14,
119991 Moscow GSP-1
Russian Federation

Send copies to the Embassy of Russia in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here.

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Russia, calling on them to raise Oleg Sentsov’s case in bilateral fora.


Phone calls

We are encouraging you to call the Embassy of Russia in your own country, asking them to release Oleg Sentsov.


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Oleg Sentsov;
  • Share information about Oleg Sentsov and your campaigning activities via social media; please use #FreeSentsov
  • Organise public events, press conferences and demonstrations;
  • Celebrate Oleg Sentsov’s work through film screenings and readings.

Please let us know about your planned activities and any actions you take via the comments box below or by emailing


Best known for his 2011 film Gamer, Oleg Sentsov was arrested four years ago and sentenced to 20 years in prison on 25 August 2015 on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture. PEN International fears that he was imprisoned for his opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike since 14 May 2018. In a statement shared by his lawyer, Oleg Sentsov declared an ‘indefinite hunger strike’ and that ‘the sole condition for its cessation is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners located in the territory of the Russian Federation’.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules) explicitly states that prisoners should be allowed to correspond in writing with family and friends at regular intervals. Under Russian legislation, there is usually no limit to the number of letters prisoners may send or receive but correspondence needs be in Russian. The prison authorities are obliged to deliver letters with the minimum of delay. All correspondence is checked and read.

PEN Centres across the world have been actively calling for Oleg Sentsov’s immediate release. They have renewed efforts since his hunger strike by sending appeals to the Russian authorities, taking part in solidarity protests and events, organising film screenings, coordinating petitions, collating messages of support, and taking part in social media actions, amongst other things. PEN International was also proud to publish three of Oleg Sentsov’s short stories in English. The texts are now available in Arabic and Belarussian.

Oleg Sentsov is the winner of the 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

About English PEN staff

This content is published by the English PEN staff.

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