By Associated Press - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) - A year after he won Europe’s top human rights award, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov finally picked up the prize Tuesday, following his release from a Russian prison where he was held on terror charges.

Accepting the Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Sentsov warned European lawmakers to be wary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s overtures as peace talks approach and called on them to remember the Ukrainians killed and jailed by Russia.

“I don’t trust Mr. Putin and I call upon you not to trust him either. Russia and Putin will without a doubt cheat you. They don’t wish for peace in Donbass or Ukraine. They want to see Ukraine on its knees,” Sentsov said.

Sentsov described Ukraine’s hopes for close ties with the European Union as “a question of survival as a nation,” and he urged the lawmakers to think twice before cozying up to the Russian president.

“Please remember thousands of those who have fallen in Ukraine. Please remember hundreds of our young men who are languishing behind bars who might be subject to torture even as we speak,” he said.

Sentsov served five years of a 20-year sentence in a prison colony in Russia’s Arctic far-north, for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism. He was freed in a prisoner swap in September. He opposed Russia’s 2014 annexation from Ukraine of his native Crimea region, and staged a 144-day hunger strike to protest the jailing of dozens of Ukrainians in Russia.

Sentsov rejects the charges and has described his prosecution as a political vendetta. Prominent political and cultural figures around the world joined the campaign for his release.

The EU award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was created in 1988 to honor individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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