He never wanted to become a filmmaker, although he loved cinema since childhood. For him, cowardice is the greatest possible sin, and his main principles are not to give up and not to waste time. About childhood and his own beliefs, the real death of heroes and the opportunity to be not like everyone else – the way Oleg Sentsov himself sees it in the section “Who is…” from Opinion.
I never dreamed to be a filmmaker, but I was an avid reader
In his short story Autobiography, Oleg says that he had a normal childhood: he grew up in a village, in a half-cultured family: his mother was a kindergarten teacher and his father was a driver. Sentsov studied well at school, read a lot, but never “crammed”: his good memory and thirst for knowledge were his secrets. But he never dreamed to be a filmmaker.
“I never dreamed to become a filmmaker. But I loved movies since childhood. And only the good ones. The older I got, the more I developed my artistic and cinematic taste, as always, by self-education. The more I grew up above myself, the narrower got the circle of people with whom I could talk about cinema.
And I have always read books. A lot. At school, I wrote essays. And always got excellent marks for them. After the integration into cybersports, I began to write journalistic articles about it – the thoughts overwhelmed me, and I could not hold back. And as Mikhal Mikhalych, who is deeply respected by me, said: “Writing is just like a physiological need – it is necessary to write only when there is no more strength to endure.” I never had this strength to endure, but I’ve always had the strength to write. In the beginning, my pieces were quite crooked, but fun. After a dozen articles, I improved my technique and developed my own style.”
The childhood may be over, but I’ll keep jumping on one leg
Oleg’s pieces about childhood are indeed special. He doesn’t canonize it or call it perfect, but talks about the important things that obviously shaped him as a person. And the light of childhood to Sentsov is not about the tangerines and gifts.
“Everyone calls childhood a happy time. I do agree. But I would add that it is also the easiest time. Mainly. Almost for everyone. I sincerely feel sorry for all those who did not have a childhood or those whose childhood ended early or was not bright enough.
I had it all – both childhood and a sufficient amount of light in it. And the light is not measured by two kilograms of tangerines for the New Year’s Eve or cartoons on a black and white TV. And the number of birthday gifts is also not its measure.”
The director remembers his childhood years partly, fragmentarily, but he recalls one story when he first thought about his own death and did not allow himself to even cry.
“I felt that I am a personality very early, at the age of five. I got a splinter in my finger, and I couldn’t get it out. Some friend, I can’t remember that bastard, told me it was all over – a thorn in my finger would reach my heart, and I would die.
I am five, and I am going home from kindergarten, wearing sandals and shorts, not far from my village. The whole village is down, far left. And I mentally say goodbye to all this in my preparation to death. The atmosphere is calm. It feels quite tragic and windy. But I am not crying, if it is meant to be this way – let it be this way. I don’t know what happened next, I remember early childhood in pieces, but if I’m still alive, then the splinter passed.”
In his story about childhood Sentsov reflects on how we perceive everything in childhood: everything seems slow and long. But the main thing is that you don’t care how you look from the side. You can still jump on one leg.
“As children, we do everything quickly, we have no time – we are in a hurry, we are interested in everything, we need to have time to go to different places, we have enough energy and too little time. Everything seems too slow and takes too long. The school is never-ending.
The boy who jumps on one leg and catches up on his grandfather’s bicycle absolutely does not care how he looks from the side – he hurries, runs, he is overwhelmed. I don’t want to be too slow. I don’t want to be in a hurry. I never want to think about what I look like from the side. I want to be overwhelmed. Maybe the childhood passed, but I will keep jumping on one leg.”
What your beliefs are worth if you’re not ready to suffer for them?
Not being afraid. This is probably the most important rule of Oleg, which he’s always kept and still keeps on repeating: in his own texts, in letters, and in court. Do not be afraid and do not give up. Sentsov realized it at school age.
“I didn’t go to school for nothing. It did teach me something. And it’s not about how to calculate the triangles, I do not need it – I learned to never give up and never waste time. Never give up and never waste time. Never give up. And never waste time. And also – that it is not necessary to try to be like everyone else.”
And although the school is already in a distant past, the Ukrainian continues to stick to his words and emphasize: there is nothing worse than fear.
“Cowardice is the worst sin on Earth. Sometimes the biggest treason starts with a bit of cowardice… When they put a bag over your head, beat you a little, and half an hour later you’re ready to renounce all your beliefs, and slander against yourself or other people, just so they stop beating you. I don’t know what your beliefs are worth if you’re not ready to suffer for them.”
In a letter to Sasha Kolchenko, another political prisoner, who is also illegally detained by the Kremlin, Oleg emphasizes the Hemingway’s quotation: A man can be destroyed but not defeated. It’s all about him: he never gives up.
I’m a baseball – the harder they hit me, the higher I fly
He doesn’t give up even looking into the eyes of the “court” of the occupant country. Sentsov has always spoken and keeps speaking straightforwardly, without any double meanings. For him, the main thing he did in his life is participation in the Maidan. He believes there is much more freedom in his prison life than in lives of the vast majority of Russians.
“I am a citizen of Ukraine, who was illegally seized by the staff of your special services… I was on the Maidan, and it is the main thing I did in my life. We stood up against the criminal President.”
“I was and still am a citizen of Ukraine. I do not recognize the annexation of Crimea and the military seizure of Crimea by the Russian Federation. I am not a serf, I cannot be transferred with the land.”
“I am not afraid of threats, and I am not afraid of this term – 20 years. I know that the era of the bloody dwarf in your country will end soon.
I never regret anything and never hope for anything. I just live. Now I live in prison – that’s my attitude to life. I think I have much more freedom than the vast majority of Russians who live in Chekhov’s case and love Putin through the hole in it.”
Heroes die beautifully only in movies and books
One of the most famous quotes of Oleg was his phrase that, unlike in times he was as a child, now he is no longer afraid of death because he knows that it is waiting for everyone. However, Sentsov wrote much more than two lines on this subject.
“We will all die. And, unfortunately, I am no exception. I would like to live a young, fulfilling life, to enjoy it or to give enjoyment to others, to walk or better to run, to sleep or not to sleep at night. So that it is me who decides it, and not my body together with my doctor. That’s a life I’d like to live longer. But it’s impossible. We all gonna die…
Everyone dies in a different way. Someone’s way is calm and quiet, just like closing the door to the nursery, in which the kids just fell asleep. Someone dies with shouts and torments, as at birth. I don’t know how I’m going to die, but I surely wouldn’t want to die as a deeply old man in bed surrounded by relatives and their yawns.”
Sentsov also reflects on death… the beautiful one. The kind we are used to see on TV or in books. But Oleg is convinced: in real life, the heroes die quite differently.
“A person was once asked how he wanted to die and he replied: “Shouting “Hurrah!”, with a gun and a mouthful of blood.” I’d like to die this way as well – it’s beautiful, it’s masculine. But it is impossible. The heroes die in a beautiful way only in movies and books. In life, they urinate themselves with blood, scream in pain and recall their mothers.”
“I don’t want to have a grave. I want to be burned. No, not in fires of inquisition, but in a simple crematorium. I want my body burned, and ashes scattered over the sea. Preferably over the Black Sea, preferably in the summer, and I want the sun to shine and a fresh wind to blow.
Sooner or later, the criminals will stop ruling Russia and the Russians
Despite everything, Oleg is convinced: sooner or later, the power in Russia will change, just the way it changed in Ukraine after Yanukovych’s escape. The main thing is not to be silent. And indeed, Oleg’s principles look like a real panacea in the struggle with any system. Do not be silent. Do not be afraid. Do not waste time and do not sell yourself.
“…Why raise a new generation of slaves? There is a part of the Russian population that understands perfectly well what is happening, that does not believe the fables, that understands what is happening on Earth and in the world and what terrible crimes their leadership is committing. But for some reason these people are afraid.
They think that nothing can be changed, that everything will keep being as it is, that the system can’t be broken – you are one, we are few, we will all be put in jail, killed, destroyed… And they sit quietly underground, like mice.
We also had criminal power, but we went against it. They didn’t want to hear us – and we knocked down garbage cans. The power did not want to see us – and we set the tires on fire. In the end, we won. The same thing will happen to you sooner or later. I don’t know in what form, and I don’t want anyone to suffer. I just want you not to be ruled by criminals anymore.”
By Dmytro Zhuravel
The publication was collected from numerous interviews, speeches, and appeals of the material’s protagonist.