Oleg Sentsov

2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Awardee and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, sentenced to 20 years in prison, has recently been moved from the Siberian prison where he was serving his sentence to an unknown destination. A few days ago, he managed to send a letter to Russian human rights defender Zoya Svetova explaining his version of what is going on. PEN America publishes the letter today for the first time in English, translated by Dante Matero. Read the original Russian language letter here.

Everything is good with me. I’m on the move. They took me out of Yakutia abruptly and are driving me to the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. And there is only one place for serving time there—the legendary Kharp. What has occurred there, and what is there now, I think you know better than me. Nothing good awaits me on this assignment. Moreover, having already passed through the Irkutsk and Omsk penitentiaries, I have some idea of the pain that awaits me—and not just from stories.

Physically, of course, no one is touching me, but you understand very well how the system depravedly punishes and debases you, even without brute force.

But all right, everything will be okay!

I have not written for a while because I wasn’t exactly in the mood. And not because I was depressed or in poor spirits—of these ailments I don’t suffer, so don’t worry!

It’s just that I’m generally not a sociable person, and I go through periods where I need to minimize my external interactions.

The Yakutsk headquarters, by the way, really helped with this—they gave me two cards this year: one for New Year’s and one for my birthday. But before I departed, they returned to me not just a box with the old letters that they had kept for this past half year, but also a hundred new paper hostages which they had collected during the year and only now decided to give back. This is what I’m earnestly reading now. They also gave back dozens of books which had been sent, but not handed out, to me.

Cursing everything, I haul this very cherished literature with me through these passages, but leaving it would be a pity. Just don’t send me any more books, all right? And do not send me what I don’t need and cannot throw away, as I have already handed out what I can and carry the rest with me, and I am already testing my limits in transporting this portable library!

And the packages that aren’t ordered for me also don’t need to be sent, because packages are given out once every three months, and I’d better write to Natasha [Sentsov’s cousin] or someone else, maybe through you, to explain exactly what I need and get exactly that. Because there were situations when some kind soul would take pity on a poor political prisoner and send some small parcel containing some sort of useless nonsense, and then I would have to wait another three months until I could actually receive what I needed.

I’ll write when I arrive.

And, finishing this pressing topic—which, by the way, occupies a large enough part of the life of a prisoner—ask sister Natasha to deposit 10,000 rubles [$173] into my prisoner account. It should catch up to me by the time I arrive.

By the way, on the topic of good deeds that do not always lead to good results:

[Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs] Klimkin tried to get in contact with me on my birthday in July, and Pussy Riot came to Yakutsk with Alyokhina to support me. That was really cool! But instead of giving me a call, they put me yet again in isolation (the fourth or fifth time, even) and then actually sent me to an even harsher place—Kharp. The Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia signed this order at the end of July. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t do anything.

You in your freedom can do that which you think necessary in order to support me or other political prisoners—but just know that the local law enforcement has their own logic in their heads and often reacts like this.

In the end, they won’t take me to the North Pole to serve time.

In general, everything is okay with me, and I hope that I will survive this trip and stay until the end point with my remaining health intact. I hope that on this point you are not becoming hysterical, because I am not alone—there are many of us—and I have far from the worst conditions.

And so I am keeping busy as always: I read, including in English now, I correct and add on to written scripts—this work can be done almost forever, but I think that I already have enough for a couple collections—I exercise when I can, and various other little things.

I kept track, as much as possible, of the events in Ukraine and Russia. Though I can’t say anything good about it—maybe from here it is just hard to follow.

Ukraine is difficult, but still somehow scratching in the necessary direction. Russia is completely bogged down in this impasse, and of what to do next no one can be sure.

Yet altogether I have no doubt about our success or victory, or that things will be good—and even great!

With this I must say goodbye, your Oleg Sentsov. Tyumen. 17.09.17

P.S. Don’t write to me here as I am leaving soon, earlier even than you will receive this letter.