Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian movie maker recently liberated from Russian captivity, has presented the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky with mementos from his prison life, in a symbolic move calling for making all possible to liberate all Ukrainians held hostage by the Kremlin.
This happened during Sentsov’s speech at the Yalta European Strategy forum in Kyiv on Sept. 13.
“In the place I have been at for five years — a prison — every little thing is of great importance,” Sentsov told the audience. “Nothing is tossed in the garbage, and everything is adapted for the use. One of the important things is tea: one can store it in a dime bag, or in a little box. I stored it in a glass jar.”
It was not a simple jar, the director continued. Starting from the earliest months of his imprisonment in Russia in 2014, he also happened to have two copybooks, a yellow one and a blue one.
So he had scissored off those copybooks two stripes of two colors and fastened them to the jar in a replication of the Ukrainian flag.
He also wrote “Slava Ukraini” (“glory to Ukraine”) slogan on it.
“For all five years I traveled Russian prisons it was with me,” Sentsov told. “I was putting it in plain sight (in my prison cell), and it was driving guards really nuts. They used to take it from me again and again, tearing the flag off, trying to trump it down. There was much fuss about this jar.”
It was his own personal struggle against Russia — “unknown, invisible, face to face with this system: for myself, for my dignity, for my country, and for the two stripes: a yellow one and a blue one,” in his words.
After saying this, Sentsov opened a plastic bag and took out the glass jar and demonstrated it to the audience, winning a storm of applause in the hall.
He also showed the audience a small white orthogonal pin: His own personal badge bearing his profile photograph and his name. In Russia, every prisoner carries a similar badge on the right side of his or her chest.
Sentsov’s identification badge was marked with a red diagonal line, the label for those prone to escape, or an inmate under a special security level.
“I took it (home) with me as a memento,” he said.
After that, Sentsov opened the jar and put his prison badge into it.
“I want to start a new tradition,” he continued. “I wish to get this jar filled with name badges of those who are still in captivity — in Russia, in Donbas, and in Crimea.”
To the sound of applauses, Sentsov then called upon Zelensky, who was present in the audience, to reach this goal as soon as possible, and then handed the jar over to him.
In his own follow-up speech later in the day, Zelensky said he would be doing everything possible to get the Sentsov jar filled and therefore liberate all Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia.
Oleg Sentsov was a pro-Ukrainian activist in Crimea protesting against the Russian invasion of 2014 and subsequently sentenced by Russian authorities to 20 years of imprisonment on charges of terrorism. He served his term at various detention facilities across Russia, mainly in the country’s transpolar areas.
His imprisonment was condemned by numerous international organizations and governments all over the world, as well as by a number of prominent filmmakers and actors, including in the West.
After nearly 5 years behind bars, Sentsov was freed and returned to Kyiv amid a big prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia.
According to Ukrainian authorities, at least 337 Ukrainian nationals are still being held captive by the Kremlin in occupied Donbas and Crimea, as well as in Russia.