HELSINKI—PEN America joined Natalia Kaplan, the cousin of Oleg Sentsov​—now on day 63 of a hunger strike in a Russian penal camp—to call for the release of all political prisoners held in Russia and demand President Trump raise these cases with President Putin at their meeting on June 16.

Sentsov’s hunger strike was also referenced in the statement issued by Pussy Riot after they claimed responsibility for an on-field protest during the World Cup Final, also held today in Moscow.  ​

At the #HelsinkiCalling demonstration, organized to ​counter the summit between Presidents Trump and Putin with a message of democracy, human rights, and peace, PEN America Eurasia Project Director Polina Kovaleva and Washington Director Tom Melia spoke alongside Sentsov’s cousin, Natalia Kaplan, who told the crowd that “Oleg’s mother asked Putin to pardon him,” and called on them to “make sure that he hears this message and responds.” 

“Helsinki is a birthplace of the 1975 human rights accord,” said Melia. “That led to years of progress, though now global human rights is in decline. The world needs leadership to strengthen democracy and the rule of law.” 

“Oleg Sentsov has already become a symbol,” said Kovaleva. “And now, when we say ‘Free Sentsov,’ we really mean free all political prisoners in Russia. PEN America will stand up for fellow writers and artists until justice prevails.”

Oleg Sentsov was detained in Crimea in May 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in a Russian prison on charges of terrorism on August 25, 2015, in what appeared to many as a politically motivated case in retaliation for Sentsov’s outspoken criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He began his hunger strike to call for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. In 2017 PEN America awarded Oleg Sentsov the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, and on ​February 26, 2018, organized a Global Day of Action calling for his release.​ In June, dozens of writers, artists and activists including Margaret Atwood, Christiane Amanpour, Salman Rushdie, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Patrick Stewart joined PEN America in signing an open letter to President Putin, urging him to release Sentsov and save his life.  This week we were joined by dozens of individuals and organizations in calling on President Trump to raise Sentsov’s case with Putin on Monday. 

Tom Melia (+1-202-631-9475) and Polina Kovaleva (+1-347-489-2997) are available for additional comment in Helsinki, and can coordinate interviews with Natalia Kaplan.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: