Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov has gone on trial in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on charges of plotting terrorist acts in Crimea.
The award-winning director was arrested shortly after conflict between Ukraine and Russian-supported forces broke out in 2014. Mr Sentsov is a strong critic of Russian intervention and helped supply food to Ukrainian troops blockaded by Russian Special Forces in the region. He is accused of being part of a pro-Ukrainian group plotting attacks on infrastructure and pro-Russian groups. In particular, prosecutors say he was involved in two attempted arson attacks in the Crimean city of Simferopol, ordered by Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector. Mr Sentsov denies the charges against him, but could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Pedro Almodóvar, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are among filmmakers who signed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin in June last year, asking him to ensure the safety of Mr Sentsov.
The director’s legal team revealed their lack of optimism about the outcome of the trial, which began on Tuesday. “I think the result will be negative. No one will acquit anyone, no one will change any charges,” Dmitry Dinze, one of the defence lawyers, said. However, Mr Dinze stated that he hoped Mr Sentsov could be exchanged for “people important to Russia” at a later date.
The filmmaker is one of a number of Ukrainian citizens held in Russia since the annexation of Crimea, the most well known of which is Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian military pilot accused of helping to murder two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine.