“This system can punish and torture people in the most perverse ways”: filmmaker Sentsov’s letter from Russian jail


The Russian journalist and human rights defender Zoya Svetova has received a letter from Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian film director and writer who was sentenced to 20 years in Russian jail for opposing the illegal annexation of Crimea. “Every letter sent by a prisoner to the free world,” Svetova notes, “is like a message in a bottle tossed into the sea: who knows if it reaches anyone. I believe that Oleg sent this letter to let everyone who worries about him know where he is and what’s going on with him.”

“I’m doing okay. In transit. They whisked me away from Yakutia and are taking me to the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug [district]. There’s only one penitentiary facility there, the legendary Kharp. I think you know better than I do what it used to be like there, and what it’s like now. I don’t expect anything nice from this trip. Especially now that I’ve been through the Irkutsk and Omsk central prisons, and I have the firsthand experience of how bad it can be.

Physically, of course, nobody bothers me. But you know perfectly well that this system can punish and torture people in the most perverse ways, without resorting to brute force.

Oh well, it’ll be alright!

I haven’t written in a while because I really wasn’t in the mood. Not because I’m depressed or feeling dispirited — that’s not my thing, don’t worry!

I’m just not a very talkative person, and there are periods where I minimize external communication.

The Yakutsk Operative Department contributed to that, by the way: this year they issued two postcards to me, one for New Year’s, and one for my birthday. But before I left, they didn’t just return the box to me with old letters that they’d kept for the last year and a half but also gave me about a hundred new ones. They’d collected them for a year, and only now decided to give up their paper hostages. So now I’m reading while in transit. They also gave me a dozen of the books I’d been sent and not given earlier.

I’m cursing as I drag this, very valuable to me, literature from prison to prison, but it would be a shame to abandon it. Ask them not to send me any more books, okay? Because they’re not sending me the books I need, but I still can’t throw them away. So I’m giving them away when I can, and dragging them with me, but that’s as much of this portable library as I can transport!

Also, don’t send me any parcels that I don’t request because I’m only allowed a parcel once every three months. I would rather write to Natasha [Oleg’s cousin Natalya Kaplan] or to someone else, through you, ask for what I need and receive those exact things. There have been situations where some kind soul would take pity on the poor political prisoner, and send a parcel with some useless nonsense. Meanwhile, I run out of the supplies I’d been sent and have to wait another three months to get the things I need.

I’ll write when I get to the place.

One last thing on the needful topic (which, by the way, takes up a large portion of a detainee’s life)—please ask my cousin Natasha to put about 10 thousand roubles [USD 170] on my prison account. By the time I get there, they’ll reach me.

Speaking of kind deeds that don’t always bring good results.

Klimkin [Ukraine’s Foreign Minister] tried to phone me on my birthday in July, and Pussy Riot, with [Maria] Alekhina, came to Yakutsk to support me. That was really cool! But instead of the phone call, I received another stretch in solitary (my fourth or fifth one), and then got transferred to a stricter place, Kharp. Russian FSIN [Federal Penitentiary System] signed an order to that effect in late July. That does not mean that I’m asking you not to do anything.

All you, out there, can do anything you consider necessary to support me or other political prisoners. Just know that local law enforcers follow their own brand of logic, and this is how they react sometimes.

After all, they’re not going to send me to do my time at the North Pole, right?

Overall, everything is okay with me, and I hope that I’ll survive this trip and my time at the destination with what remains of my health. I hope you out there aren’t going to throw a panic about this because I’m not sitting here alone; there’s many of us, and my conditions are far from the worst.

Aside from that, I’m doing the same things as before: reading, now in English as well; editing and adding to the scripts I’ve written—this is a job I can do almost forever, but I believe I’ve got a few more collections in me; exercising as far as I can, and so on.

Needless to say, I have been following events in Ukraine and Russia, as far as was possible. Well, I can’t say anything good—maybe the view is bad from here.

Ukraine is going through some hard times, but still scraping in the right direction somehow. Russia has permanently stuck in a dead end, and no-one knows what to do next.

I still don’t doubt our success and our victory, nor that everything will be well—very well, even!

With this, I’ll say goodbye.
Yours, Oleg Sentsov.
Tyumen, 09.17.17

P.S. Don’t write here [to this colony], I will be on the move before this letter even reaches you.”

Translated by Voices of Ukraine