As the FIFA World Cup football competition begins in Russia, internationally acclaimed U.S. horror writer Stephen King has joined the list of famous people urging Russia to release the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov.

On June 14, the day of the official FIFA World Cup opening ceremony in Moscow and the first match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, King took to the social medium Twitter to draw attention to the plight of Sentsov, with the 41-year-old Ukrainian having been on hunger strike for 32 days.

“Today is day 1 of the FIFA World Cup and day 32 of Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike,” King wrote on Twitter. “Join me… in calling for the release of this Ukrainian filmmaker, unjustly imprisoned in Russia. Time is running out, and he may die for his views.”

In 11 hours King’s tweet was liked 2,500 times and collected 147 comments. Most of those who left comments thanked the writer, but some – most likely Kremlin trolls and supporters – left negative and insulting comments – calling King an “idiot,” “broken,” “sucker,” “terrorist supporter,” and a spreader of “fake American news.”


The negative comments were either in Russian or error-strewn English.

Sentsov a film director and writer, became a political prisoner after being arrested by Russian, subjected to bogus terrorism charges in a sham trial by a Kremlin-controlled court, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Before his arrest, he was a vocal opponent of Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, Sentsov’s homeland.

To draw attention to the plight of some 71 Ukrainians illegally imprisoned Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, Sentsov went on hunger strike on May 14, more than a month ago.

Since then Sentsov has only drunk boiled water. To keep him alive, prison doctors have started giving him glucose intravenously, which should extend his life for a few more weeks. However, after the 30th day of a hunger strike, the body suffers irreversible effects.


As the world’s eyes turned to Russia for the World Cup, Sentsov’s hunger strike has drawn a lot of attention to the plight of Ukrainian prisoners, with famous people and politicians calling for their release, and tagging their posts with the #FreeSentsov hashtag.

Sentsov was imprisoned 4 years ago, in 2014. The international community has supported him during his time in Russian jails.

His supporters include one of the world’s top actresses, Meryl Streep, who called for the freeing of Sentsov in April 2017, posing with a “Free Sentsov” sign for a photograph taken during the PEN America Annual Literary Gala.


The same year, a photo of a sad-looking Johnny Depp, the famous U.S actor and director, posing with a police mugshot board with “11.05.2014, Yakutsk, Russia, 20 years” written on it was published. Depp was photographed as a prisoner to support Sentsov as part of the “Imprisoned for Art” photo campaign, initiated by the Voice Project international, a human rights organization.

Many other famous figures in film-making and other areas have voiced support for Sentsov.

The international campaign to free Sentsov even reached Russian state TV, where several filmmakers spoke in his support during the award ceremony of Kinotavr, Russia’s largest film festival, which was broadcast live on June 11.

Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and  alleged involvement in international-scale crimes, including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England, as well as its launching of a war in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea, have led the world community to denounce the Kremlin and impose economic sanctions.

Nevertheless, Russia was still allowed to host the FIFA World Cup, which will be held from June 14 until July 15.


None of the qualifying nations pulled out of the competition, and only few countries’ government officials decided to boycott the event.

Those staying away include UK Prime Minister Theresa May and the members of the British royal family, as well as Finnish, Icelandic, Polish, and Australian officials.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not said if she will go to Russia, while French President Emmanuel Macron, at a press conference held with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 10, said he would go to Russia if the French team reached the semi-final stage of the tournament.

Thirty-two countries are playing in the 2018 World Cup.

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