Last December the Ukrainian government and Russia’s separatist proxies in eastern Ukraine exchanged nearly 400 prisoners. European leaders rightly applauded. Lost amidst the congratulations was the fact that Moscow still holds sixty-six Ukrainian citizens as de facto hostages on Russian territory, and they more than meet the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s definition of political prisoners. While a few of these stories made international headlines—most prominently pilot Nadiya Savchenko who has since been released—the vast majority do not.
Consider some of the most egregious cases. The filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to twenty years on made-up charges of terrorism after protesting the annexation of his native Crimea. Sentsov is being held in the Arctic town of Labytnangi where he is losing his teeth and hair while his body slowly gives out.