A military court in Russia jailed Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film-maker, for 20 years yesterday for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea, as a politically charged trial drew to a close.
Alexander Kolchenko, a Ukrainian activist tried in the same case, received a 10-year sentence at the court hearing in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia.
Both men pleaded not guilty.
Crimea-born Mr Sentsov was arrested by Russia's Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, in May 2014, shortly after Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.
Russian prosecutors say he was involved in two attempted arson attacks in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, and plotted to destroy a statue of Vladimir Lenin.
The US has slammed the case as politically motivated and accused Russia of holding the two defendants hostage in the conflict with Ukraine.
Appearing in a packed court room on Tuesday, Mr Sentsov and Mr Kolchenko exchanged nervous smiles as the judge read out the verdict and eventually broke into song with a rendering of the Ukrainian national anthem.
Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko sent a message of support following his meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande in Berlin.
"Hang in there Oleg," he wrote on Facebook. "Time will pass and those who organised this kangaroo court will find themselves in the dock."
Best known for his film Gamer, Mr Sentsov put aside his professional activities in late 2013 to take part in the Maidan protests in Kiev that eventually swept Mr Poroshenko’s pro-European government to power.
As Russia took over Crimea in March last year, the film-maker joined other activists delivering food and water to Ukrainian soldiers trapped in their bases on the peninsula.
Even by Russian standards the 20-year sentence handed to Mr Sentsov is severe, and must be served in a maximum security prison.
Kremlin critics say the defendants were subjected to a show trial that has exposed the corruption and brutality lurking in the Russian judicial system.
Prosecutors rejected Mr Sentsov’s claim that he was beaten by Russian law enforcers shortly after his arrest in an attempt to force a confession.
Instead they said the defendant was a sadomasochist and had inflicted bruises on himself while in detention.
A large group of international film directors including Mike Leigh, Wim Wenders and Pedro Almodovar have taken up Mr Sentsov's cause, demanding his release in an open letter to Russia's president Vladimir Putin.
Russian film-makers have also protested, calling for an investigation into allegations that their colleague was tortured while in custody.
"A life, hope, the whole world of a human being, artist, director is being destroyed," said Alexei German Jnr, a Russian film-maker, on Tuesday.
“It is the logic of blood. It is the tragedy of escalation when every subsequent step becomes crueler and more bloody than the previous one.”
The hefty prison sentences handed to Mr Sentsov and Mr Kolchenko were a "blatant injustice after a patently unfair trial", Amnesty International said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The whole trial was designed to send a message. It played into Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents.”