“Do not think that you are forgotten. Do not think that we don’t care ...Your fight is noble and brave and inspiring. I stand with you in solidarity.”
This letter from Canadian writer Yann Martel to Oleg Sentsov is one of many translated from English into Russian by activists and volunteers. They are trying to do everything possible to ensure the Ukrainian gets messages from the outside world to his Russian prison.
Tuesday, August 21, marks the 100th day of Sentsov’s hunger strike to campaign for the release of 64 other Ukrainian prisoners held in Russia and Crimea. Sentsov was sentenced in Russia to 20 years in a penal colony for "plotting acts of terrorism", a conviction widely considered political.
The European Film Academy, which had earlier published Sentsov's prison address, said correspondence in Russian has a greater chance of getting through. All letters to prisoners are checked and those in Russian are said to get priority over those written in English.
Many letters to Sentsov were sent via the address of PEN International in London, which promised to deliver those messages to the Russian embassy, urging the authorities to ensure that Sentsov is allowed to receive them.
“The messages are very different; those from university professors are very different from those from children. But there is one common message: we care, we remember, we are thinking about you,” Olha Mukha, Congress Coordinator from PEN International told Euronews. Nobel prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Scottish author Ian Rankin, writer and filmmaker Mike Leigh and many other famous personalities wrote to Sentsov to support him, she says.
Mukha put out a Facebook appeal for volunteers.
“I received about 60 replies during the first few hours. Now more than 100 people are ready to translate letters to Sentsov from more than twenty languages. Mostly they are Ukrainians living and working around the world but not only them.”
Euronews spoke with Olha Hrytsenko, a mathematician and data scientists from Kyiv, about why she translates Sentsov’s letters.
“I am doing this because I think it’s important to support Oleg for many reasons. It’s important, for instance, because my friends could end up in his place. This is closer than it seems."
Another volunteer translator, Halyna Herasym, a 26-year-old political scientist and a lecturer at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine, said:
“No one should have a hunger strike as their only option to get justice. That’s just ridiculous, that in a world of 3D printers, Starbucks and the Hadron Collider (an experimental particle accelerator in Switzerland) there have to be people forced to perish slowly in confinement for their convictions."
“I’m really grateful to everyone coordinating the process for giving people like me a chance not to be entirely helpless. I do believe that the words of support are important to Oleg right now," she said.
Once the translated messages are delivered to the Russian embassies on Tuesday, PEN International calls on Sentsov’s supporters in different countries to phone these institutions and ask when the messages will be delivered. Later, the organisation plans to send all the letters by post.