Almost a year after the European Parliament awarded him the 2018 Sakharov Prize, the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov picked up the award at a ceremony in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
Sentsov, 43, accepted the award, which recognises individuals or organisations fighting for human rights and fundamental freedoms, at a ceremony before the full European Parliament.
In his acceptance speech, Sentsov, warned the EU not to trust Russian President Vladimir Putin during the next round of negotiations to bring an end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“I don’t trust Mr. Putin and I call upon you not to trust him either. Russia and Putin will without a doubt cheat you. They don’t wish for peace in the Donbass or Ukraine. They want to see Ukraine on its knees,” Sentsov said.
Sentsov spent five years in a Russian penal colony before being released in a prisoner swap between Moscow and Kiev. During the uprising that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych, Sentsov helped to deliver food and supplies to Ukrainian military personnel stranded in their Crimean bases, before they were eventually evacuated to safety.
He was arrested in Crimea, along with four others, on suspicion of plotting attacks on bridges, power lines and monuments in the territory.
Despite the lack of evidence, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2015 amid criticism from human rights organisations and the EU, which regarded him as a political prisoner.
Last May, Sentsov began a hunger strike but discontinued the strike after 145 days to avoid being fed with a tube.
Sentsov was released in early September in an exchange of prisoners aimed at easing tensions between Russia and Ukraine
He and 34 others were greeted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky upon arrival in Kyiv.
Oleg Sentsov dedicated his prize to all Ukrainians still held in the Donbass, in the grip of an armed conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists, and to all the political prisoners of the Russian regime.
David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, paid tribute to Sentsov’s “courage, determination and sense of honour” as he presented the filmmaker with the award.