It wasn’t a year ago that Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov screened his latest film, Rhino, at the famous Venice Film Festival.
However, the filmmaker, who had been imprisoned in Russia for several years after Moscow’s troops invaded his country, put his work on hold and joined the battle at the forefront.
“I’ve lived some lives and I don’t regret anything,” says the 46-year-old director, who is currently a member of the Ukrainian Special Forces stationed in the eastern part of Ukraine.
In an interview with AFP on vacation in the city of Kramatorsk, a tall and striking filmmaker tells the story of his journey from film work to a hunger strike in a Russian prison and now a trench in Donbus.
Sentsov has always been politically active. He participated in the 2013 Maidan Uprising, which expelled the pro-Kremlin President in Ukraine, and in 2014 a demonstration in his hometown of Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula where Russia merged from Ukraine.
Later that year, the director of the internationally acclaimed movie Gamer (2011) was arrested by Russia and sentenced to 20 years in prison for terrorism.
Sentsov, thrown behind a Siberian bar, went on a 144-day hunger strike before being released in 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.
His imprisonment was hit by international protests, and European directors such as Pedro Almodóvar and Wim Wenders appealed for his release and shocked the film world.
Sentsov was awarded the Freedom of Thought of the Sakharov Prize in the European Parliament in 2018 while behind the bar.
-Shoot down a helicopter-
“I took a short break in a Russian prison before returning to the cinema and now in the army,” the director says.
“I’ve changed my life so many times that I don’t know what to do in 10 years.”
When President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, Sentsov left behind the camera. He moved his family to a safe place in western Ukraine and then, like many Ukrainian men, returned to the fight.
“I took my family to Lviv, and then I came back to engage in territorial defense forces in Kieu,” he says, which is the capital of Ukraine, which was under Russian attack at the time.
Not receiving military training, the director spent several weeks at the checkpoint before going to the northern front of the capital.
Since then, he has continued training and “learning” and has been transferred to special forces responsible for shooting down Russian helicopters and drones.
“I’m a member of an intelligence unit that specifically supports and defends groups operating Stinger,” he says, referring to air defense systems used to target low-flying aircraft. ..
Asked if he missed a job in the film industry, Sentsov states that it is only a “part” of his life.
“It’s important, but only part of it,” he said, adding that he couldn’t see the speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Cannes in May.
“Today we live in a completely different world where everything is related to war,” he says.
Last month he was stationed near Bakumut, one of the few cities in the east that is still in the hands of Ukraine, under attack from Russian troops trying to take full control of the East Donbus region.
“We couldn’t get all the bodies back,” he says, after their position went into a big fire.
But Sentsov is convinced that Ukraine will win.
“In any case, Ukraine is at war because of its existence, so we will win this war,” he says.
“Russia wants to regain the old colony of Ukraine, but Ukraine is not a colony. Ukraine is an independent country,” he said, Kremlin’s “phobia of closure, hatred of foreigners, vision of the empire.” Blame.
Life continued during the war, and in early July Sentsov, who had two children in his previous marriage, remarried in Kieu.
“War is a real test and you have thrown away what you don’t need. Only the important ones remain: love, family, and the children you fight,” he says.
“Life is not just a movie.”