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Imprisoned Ukrainian Filmmaker Oleg Sentsov Released in Prisoner Exchange

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, whose arrest and imprisonment in Russia has been a rallying cry for the entertainment industry and human-rights groups worldwide, has been sent back to Ukraine as part of a prisoner exchange Saturday, according to news reports.

Sentsov is one of 35 Ukrainians who have been transferred from Moscow to Kiev in the first prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine since 2017, the BBC said.

Sentsov was an outspoken opponent of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government and of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In May 2014, he was arrested by Russian authorities at his home in Crimea, jailed for a year in Moscow, then convicted by a military court of terrorist crimes – charges that critics say were trumped up. Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

His plight has sparked protests and denunciations by human-rights groups such as Amnesty International and by members of the entertainment industry. Last year, a vigil organized by the European Film Academy was held for Sentsov in Berlin.

“Happy endings rarely happen, except in the movies,” Mike Downey, deputy chairman of the academy, said in a statement Saturday. “But in the case of Oleg Sentsov, whilst it is a bitter victory after more than five years of struggle in the gulag and months on hunger strike, he never once relinquished his stand or his principles.”

Downey added that “the international film community must learn the lesson that there will be regimes that target filmmakers and film professionals, and we need to be prepared to react and campaign whenever that happens, as in the current case of jailed Myanmar film maker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, the recently sentenced Mohamad Rasoulof and long-term house-arrest prisoner Jaafar Panahi. In questions of filmmakers at risk and prisoners of conscience, the European Film Academy will always stand firm in solidarity.”

Photo: Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov hugs his daughter upon his arrival at Boryspil Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine.

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