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Oleg Sentsov | ‘Autobiography’

Tuesday 26 June 2018 - 10:46am

Oleg Sentsov

I was born on Monday the 13th. I guess that’s why I’ve had such a fun life.

My childhood was like any childhood, a happy time. I grew up in a village, in a semi-educated family: my mother was a nursery school teacher, my father a driver. We didn’t have much money, but I only have good memories.

I did well in school, was top of the class. I read a lot. Did my homework, but wasn’t a swot, I got by with a good memory and a thirst for knowledge. I was an outsider in my class. Skinny. I got beat up.

When I was twelve I got a really bad cold. It led to complications with my legs, I developed polyarthritis and they got paralysed. After half a year of treatment, I started walking again.

In my final years in high school I would argue with my teachers, sometimes on the topic we were discussing, sometimes just out of insolence – I can’t stand people who think they’re smarter than everyone else but really aren’t. I began to fit in better at school with the cool kids, started to hang out with the troublemakers, and life started to take on new dimensions. I got into sport, although the doctors warned against it. Medicine gave up on me, and I gave up on it. I got stronger and tougher.

After school I moved to the city of S. to study at college, a prestigious place, and applied for a state-funded place. They didn’t want to accept my documents:

‘Where are you from, son?’

‘From the village of S.’

‘Did you finish school with a gold medal?’

‘No.’

‘Silver?’

‘No.’

‘So what do want from us?’

‘To study!’

So I studied on my own. Scraped in with the bare minimum grades. The happiest day of my life. But half a year later I got disillusioned: the students only pretended to study, and the teachers only pretended to teach. I gave up on attending classes. Passed everything, but only just. I had a good time. I hung out with rockers and musicians. It was fun. I had no money, but it was fun. Things will never be like that again.

I finished my studies. I didn’t try to find a job in my specialisation (marketing). Nine-to-five wasn’t for me. I’d have murdered all my co-workers by the end of the working day.

When I was twenty, my father died (I was only able to start talking about it ten years later). My carefree days were over. I had been doing odd jobs here and there since I was about thirteen, but now I really had to start earning. I worked at the market. I sold Herbalife products for a year, cheated people out of their money. I started my own business with a friend. I borrowed a lot of money and lost a lot of money. My friend disappeared. But I survived. That was 1996.

I worked as an administrator in computer clubs, and then as manager. I got into gaming. I played online video games professionally for four years. I took part in competitions, became the champion of Ukraine. I travelled a bit. I created my own gaming team, my own website, gathered likeminded people around me, and now I’m the leader of the Crimean gaming movement.

The last year and a half I’ve been busy setting up the biggest Internet Centre in Simferopol. I did it. Business is good.

When I was twenty, I wanted a lot of money. I didn’t have any, and somehow I just couldn’t earn any. By the time I turned thirty my worldview had changed completely, and money was no longer so important in my system of values, but I had it… I guess that’s how things should be. I don’t know.

A bit about my personal life: for more than ten years I’ve been living with the same woman. I’m married to her. I’ve got two little kids with her. I love them all.

I never dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. But I’ve loved movies since I was a kid. Good movies. The older I got, the more I educated myself about films, and the more refined my cinematic tastes became. The more I matured, the narrower the circle of people I could talk to about films got. Today, there are only two or three people left.

I’ve always read books. A lot of books. At school I wrote essays. Always got top marks for them. After I got into gaming, I started writing articles about it, my thoughts just built up inside me, I couldn’t hold them back. And as my beloved Mikhal Mikhalych Zhvanetsky used to say: ‘writing is like pissing, you should do it when you no longer have the will to hold it in’. I no longer had the will to hold it in, and I did have the will to write. At first, it all came out wrong somehow, though it was fun. After writing about ten articles, I had refined my technique and found my own style. I wrote a couple of stories or essays – I don’t really know what to call them myself. Now I’m writing a book.

I want to make films. My thoughts are building up again, and paper just isn’t as expressive as celluloid. I’m trying to get onto a directing course. It seems like a pretty good one. If I don’t get on it, then I’ll go ahead anyway, on my own, without any preparation – it won’t be for the first time.

I don’t like Grebenshchikov much, but once he said something interesting in answer to a question about his musical education: ‘thirty years of listening to music and twenty years of playing it’. I’ve been watching movies for thirty years – time to move forward.

Translated from the Russian by Dr Uilleam Blacker


Prominent Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2015 on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture. He has been on hunger strike since 14 May 2018 to urge the Russian authorities to release all Ukrainians unfairly imprisoned in Russia. PEN International is calling for his immediate release.

Read more about Oleg Sentsov, currently on hunger strike. Read his stories 'Testament' and 'Dog'.

Dr Uilleam Blacker is an academic and translator specialising in Ukrainian, Polish and Russian literature. His translations of contemporary Ukrainian literature have appeared in numerous publications, including Modern Poetry in Translation, Words Without Borders and Dalkey Archive's Best European Fiction series.

This story was first published in Russian by Laurus Press in Tales (2015).