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Sentsov: Ukrainian director whose career was derailed by politics

© AFP/File | Sentsov made his first film 'Gamer' in 2011, writing, directing and producing it himself

MOSCOW (AFP) - 

Oleg Sentsov's career as a film director was on the up when the Russian annexation of his native Crimea abruptly changed his trajectory.

Since 2015 he has been languishing in a far northern Russian jail after he was convicted by a Russian court of planning arson attacks in the annexed peninsula.

For the last 100 days he has been on hunger strike demanding that Russia free all Ukrainian political prisoners. Relatives and visitors report his health has declined dramatically in that time.

Sentsov made his first film "Gamer" in 2011, writing, directing and producing it himself on a budget of just $20,000, raised from his job running a gaming centre in Crimea's main city of Simferopol.

It was shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2012 as well as several other European festivals.

At the time of his arrest in 2014, he was preparing to make a new film, "Nosorog," or "Rhino" with financing from a German film fund.

He was also an opposition activist and member of protest group AutoMaidan, which held drive-by protests against Ukraine's Russia-backed then-president Viktor Yanukovych.

He took part in the Maidan popular uprising in Kiev over the winter of 2013-2014, which culminated in Yanukovych's ousting.

He was convicted in 2015 by a Russian military court of carrying out arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea and plotting further attacks, including blowing up a Lenin statue in Simferopol.

His trial alongside co-defendant Alexander Kolchenko prompted condemnation from Western countries and Kiev, with Amnesty International likening it to "Stalinist-era show trials."

Supporters say Russia wanted to make an example of him with a particularly harsh sentence.

Stars including Pedro Almodovar and Johnny Depp have called for Sentsov's release, along with Western governments led by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The European Court of Human Rights has called for Sentsov to be moved to a hospital and urged him to cease his hunger strike.

However he has adamantly refused to do so and also turned down lawyers' initiative to request a transfer to a civilian hospital in his home region, writing in a note passed to his lawyer on August 7 that he was not transportable and risked dying en route to hospital.

Sentsov has two children including a son who has autism.

His mother in a letter to Putin in July begged him: "Do not destroy his life and that of his loved ones. We are waiting for him at home."

© 2018 AFP