Cousin of jailed Ukrainian filmmaker accepts EU's Sakharov prize

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) –


A cousin of jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov accepted on Wednesday the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize on his behalf, saying the director remained committed to winning the release of all "political prisoners" in Russia.

To Sentsov, winning the award is "another instrument in the fight for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners," Natalia Kaplan told the parliament.

Sentsov, 42, is serving a 20-year sentence in a Russian penal colony north of the Arctic Circle following his 2015 conviction over claims of an arson plot in Crimea.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory in 2014, drawing European and US sanctions.

"What is important isn't how a person lived, or how a person died, but for what cause," Kaplan quoted the filmmaker and author as saying.

Russia's foreign ministry has slammed the award as "an absolutely politicised" move.

Sentsov started a hunger strike on May 14 demanding the release of all Ukrainian prisoners in Russia, and his deteriorating health provoked an outcry from the international community.

He called off the protest after 145 days to avoid being force-fed.

Sentsov's cousin, who lives in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, said her cousin was "feeling much better" and was "steadily recovering".

"But the hunger strike has not been without consequences. He is now having serious problems with his kidney, liver and heart... and nobody is able now to say if he would be able to fully recover," she told parliament.

"I think nothing can break him and he continues to work. He has written a few scripts, a novel and a collection of short stories while in prison," she added.