Ukraine: Director in prisoner swap backs jailed Russians

Oleg Sentsov

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, former Russian prisoner, attends his press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. After five years of being locked up in a Russian prison Sentsov was one of the 35 freed Ukrainian prisoners. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) — A film director who was included in a major prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia spoke out Tuesday on behalf of suspected political detainees in Russia, promising to advocate for both fellow Ukrainians and Russians behind bars.

Oleg Sentsov, 43, was freed after spending five years in a Russian prison colony above the Arctic circle on charges of plotting a terrorist act. He was flown from Moscow to Kyiv with 34 other former prisoners Saturday.

Speaking at his first news conference, Senstov said he would work to get other Ukrainians out of prison, as well as Russians who were jailed for opposing their government.

“I’ll do my best to attract attention to this issue – our political prisoners and Russians – so that it doesn’t go away,” he said.

Sentsov was a fervent opponent of Russia’s annexation of his native Crimea in 2014, a move that Ukraine and almost all the world views as illegal. Human rights groups alleged the charges against the director were baseless.

The prisoner trade seen as an important step to improving ties between the two countries, which also are strained by Russia’s backing of separatist rebels fighting troops in eastern Ukraine.

Sentsov looked composed on a stage inside a Kyiv community center he fielded questions from journalists. In his answers, he indicated he did not hold all Russians responsible for his experience.

“Apart from our prisoners, there are people in Russia who are fighting for themselves, for a free Russia and for our Ukraine. These are our true brothers,” Sentsov said. “They all need our help.”

He specifically mentioned a Moscow activist, Konstantin Kotov, who received a four-year prison term for participating in a number of unauthorized protest rallies.

Activists have led protests since July over the disqualification of opposition and independent candidates from the Moscow city council election held Sunday.

Protest leaders were jailed for weeks and more than a dozen people were charged with rioting.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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