MOSCOW: Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year sentence in Russia, began a hunger strike this week to demand Moscow free all Ukrainian political prisoners it holds, his lawyer told AFP Wednesday.
Sentsov was convicted of terrorism by a Russian court in 2015 following Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
"He has declared a hunger strike for political reasons and it is timed for the World Cup," Sentsov's lawyer Dmitry Dinze told AFP.
Russian news website Mediazona published Sentsov's handwritten letter from prison in which he declared the hunger strike.
"I, Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian citizen unlawfully sentenced by a Russian court and currently in a prison colony in the city of Labytnangi, declare an immediate hunger strike starting May 14, 2018," the letter said.
"My only condition to stop (the hunger strike) is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners on Russian territory," the filmmaker wrote.
Sentsov, whose home country considers him a political prisoner, ended his letter in Ukrainian: "Together until the end. Glory to Ukraine!".
His lawyer told AFP that Sentsov believes there are 64 other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.
"I call on the international community to continue its pressure on the Kremlin so that Ukrainian political prisoners can come home to their families as quickly as possible," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Twitter, commenting on the hunger strike.
The 41-year-old was moved an Arctic colony known as the "White Bear" in Russia's Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, in October 2017. He was previously held in a Siberian prison colony.
After Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, Sentsov, a father of two, was detained and accused of being a militant with the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist movement Right Sector.
A global campaign to free him has seen stars like Johnny Depp wearing his solidarity T-shirt.