Hunger-striking Ukrainian filmmaker 'losing hope': cousin

Kiev (AFP) –


Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov is "losing hope" and no longer believes that he will be freed after almost 100 days on hunger strike in a Russian prison, his cousin told AFP.

Natalia Kaplan in an interview insisted Western leaders had "leverage" to bring about the release of the 42-year-old Kremlin opponent who was convicted on terrorism charges.

"He's losing hope," Kaplan said Thursday, a week after she received a letter from Sentsov in which he told her he felt the "end is near".

"In his letter, he wrote to me that we mustn't tell him any more that freedom is coming. He doesn't believe it any more," his cousin said.

According to Kaplan, Sentsov's health has dramatically declined since he started a hunger strike on May 14 to demand the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.

"He has a very weak heartbeat of 40 beats per minute. He complains that his heart hurts, that he's weak, and he tries not to get up too often to preserve his strength," he said.

Activist and journalist Zoya Svetova, who visited the filmmaker in his Russian Arctic prison this week, told AFP he had lost 17 kilogrammes (28 lbs), though prison medics said he had lost 11.

Sentsov was convicted of arson attacks on pro-Moscow party offices in Crimea after Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Amnesty International denounced the trial against him as "Stalinist".

G7 ambassadors as well as major figures from the world of cinema, from director Jean-Luc Godard to Hollywood star Johnny Depp, have called for his release.

Last Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron raised the issue of "finding an urgent humanitarian solution" in Sentsov's case.

Kaplan said she was waiting for Western leaders to put pressure on Moscow and "find some sort of leverage to free Oleg and other political prisoners".

"Such leverage does exist, I am sure of it," she said.

"We can't put down our arms while Oleg is continuing his fight. It would be a betrayal both of Oleg and the people who are making such huge efforts to secure his release," Kaplin added.

Sentsov's case may be raised on Saturday when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday called for his immediate release during a telephone conversation with the German leader.

The Kremlin has so far remained unresponsive to calls for his release, saying that a request for forgiveness can only be filed by the prisoner himself, which Sentsov has refused to do.