Director Oleg Sentsov in the foreground: “The Russians are burning the earth” | Europe | DW

After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov joined the territorial defense and took the fight. Since 2014, it is considered a symbol of resistance to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In May of that year, Sentsov was arrested by Russian intelligence on suspicion of planning terrorist acts, and he was taken to Moscow – and subsequently imprisoned in a Russian sanctions camp. Filmmakers from all over Europe have repeatedly demanded the release of the director. After his release as part of a prisoner exchange in September 2019, he was able to return to Ukraine.

DW: Mr. Sentsov, you are now in the Donbass. What is the current situation at the front?

Oleg Sentsov: I am now on the most difficult section near Severodonetsk in the direction of Bakhmut. This is the last part of the Luhansk region that the Russians have not occupied, but they are trying with all their might. Because they want to show some kind of victory, in this case the “liberation” of the Luhansk region, as they say *.

In a Facebook video, she says that members of Ukraine’s regional defense are being sent to the front not well prepared for combat.

This is not a reproach, but a problem that needs a quick fix. Still in the outback or here in the second line of defense or beyond the training has to improve. There are enough people who want to take the fight, they are very motivated, but they just have to learn how to do it.

Battles for Sieverodonetsk on May 30, 2022

I’ve been at war for two months and I still haven’t fired a single shot. The distance between the warring factions is great and there are very few gun battles. Artillery, mortars and rocket launchers are mainly used, only infantry occupy positions. It is important to live in these conditions and not die, not get hurt, not be a burden. However, survival skills are very important on the front lines.

Why did you join territorial defense in the early days of the war?

There I immediately got an assault rifle. It could have taken longer as part of the mobilization because at that time there was no conscription in my area. I headed straight to the territorial defense because that’s where the weapons were distributed. The situation was already clear that there would be an invasion of Kyiv and soon there would be street fighting.

I learned a lot in two months. This is a completely different war, these are smart weapons, so having such weapons is important. We don’t have enough of them, we have outdated. Russia has some of the newer ones, but not many of them. Here in the Donbass they show that they have a lot of ammunition. They’re just putting pressure on us to get out, we’re forced to back off, and they’re gradually taking their positions. They burn the earth and move through it like fire. You can’t stay there because you’re on fire. This is their strategy now. This is what they did in Syria and Chechnya. In the early days of the war they believed that they could simply occupy Ukraine in columns. But they couldn’t, so they resorted to the ancient scorched earth strategy.

How long do you think this war will last?

The outlook is tough, but I think we have to adapt to that for two or three years. Because not only do we have to win here and stop Russia and liberate our lands, but we also have to put pressure on Russia to change the regime there. Otherwise, the problem will remain. Even if a coup and Putin took place by Patrushev (Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev – He noted. editor) or Shoigu (Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu – on me. in another meaning. editor), until then the situation will not change, even then Russia will remain a problem.

I spent five years behind bars as a political prisoner in Russia. Aren’t you afraid that history will repeat itself if you get caught?

Well, first of all, you can’t be unlucky. That would be too much. I think my time in captivity is over and there are other trials waiting for me. And second, if I was captured, I wouldn’t be allowed to live as a very special enemy.

What awaits the defenders of “Azovestal” who are in Russian captivity?

One has to think of the Russian novel and there is only the message of “Nazis” and “Fascists” that has been constantly used to justify this war. Now they will try to lead an amazing operation to show victory and justify the invasion. So I don’t count on a quick prisoner exchange.

Ukraine |  Azov Steel Plant in Mariupol

Destruction at the Azov Steel Plant in Mariupol

Perhaps one or the other will be identified as members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces or Marines and handed over sooner. But the Azov regiment will be subject to a show trial, because Russia needs something for internal propaganda. Because there are no great victories, people will say: “We defeated the Nazis in Mariupol.” The main thing is that everyone survives and is not executed or tortured. As far as I know, this does not happen either because there are certain arrangements that are monitored by the Red Cross.

Russian director Kirill Serebnikov, who is considered a Russian dissident, has recently been criticized. At the Cannes Film Festival, he spoke out against the boycott of Russian culture in favor of helping the families of Russian soldiers. what do you think?

You have to remember that Serebrennikov is a Russian director, not a Ukrainian director and sees everything from his own point of view. He is not a direct enemy, but he is not a direct friend either. You don’t have to pay attention to what he says. As for abolition, it is not just an abolition of culture, it is also an abolition of Russia.

Because Russia is responsible for all the crimes. The blood of Bucha’s murdered children, tortured men, and raped women is in the hands of every Russian – on those who did it and on those who sent them there, on those who support her or remain silent, but also on Kirill Serebrenkov, who says that Russian soldiers must be helped. For me, the blood of innocent victims is stained on every hand. You will never be able to cleanse yourself of it.

How does war affect your creative work?

My creative plans have not changed. There is a script for a movie. My partner, Denis Ivanov, was in Cannes and trying to get co-funding for the Ukrainian social drama “Kay” and our English project “Bright World”. This is a children’s adult story that I wrote in a cell in a Russian prison. When I have an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while, it lives inside of me and after a few months or years it becomes a scenario. I have an idea to make a big movie about Azovstal. But until the war is over, I won’t be behind the camera. Only after winning.

*The interview was conducted on May 26.

Conversational by Anna Phil

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