Political prisoners

“You can cry here already.” Former political prisoner about solidarity and support in prison

Palitviazinka (That’s what they call women political prisoners in Belarus) Olga Ritus was an independent election observer, shot a video in Tiktok about the situation in Belarus, and went to marches. And Olga was detained when she was on her way to work, Palitviazynka was sentenced to three years of “domestic” chemistry. At first there will be an account of the violence and blackmail of the children to which Olga was subjected, but then there will be an account of the support she had among the women, how the women sniffed the “newcomers” and how the colors and smells were dulled there. It’s a reverent story, full of love for her cellmates and the importance of supporting each other behind bars. At the end is a media file with Olga’s voice, a must-listen.

When she was arrested, Olga was kicked, doused with water, threatened, and placed in a pre-trial detention center.  And then they recorded a humiliating video, which shows a woman with wet hair.

“Getting out of the car, one of the law enforcers hit me in the head and told me to look at the floor. In the office he hit me again and I fell down. And then they started kicking me. At one point a man came into the office, a seemingly normal man, as it turned out he was breaking into my phone. He asked my colleagues what was going on here, I already thought about the ray of hope and said that people were being beaten in this place. Then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me out of the office, dragging me down the hallway. I could not imagine that such a thing could happen in 2020 in the center of Minsk,” Olga told reporters. Her voice is low and beautiful, and sometimes it trembles.

Most importantly, Olga has two sons. The older one is 17 and the younger one is already 13. The eldest son’s responsibility almost fell on him – he supported both his grandmother and his younger brother. Although he himself was in Poland, because he studied there. On this ground, the older son developed a severe depression, and the boy was practically alone with his misfortune. He could not come to Belarus for serious reasons. The younger son missed his mother very much, too.

“I forbade my eldest son to go to Belarus because I was afraid for his safety. I was threatened several times that he would also be put in jail,” says Olga.

She spent the first ten days in the jail in Okrestina, then she was transferred to the detention center. We asked Olga what she felt when she entered her cell. She said that not at all what she expected.

“When I went into the cell on Okrestin, I saw the girls’ eyes and I felt warm. I cried for the first time there, knowing that these were people who could support me. The girls met me in the cell with the words: “You can cry here already”. Before that I had been interrogated in the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and the Investigative Committee. All this time I held on, I did not cry, it was like a stone inside” – says Palitvyazynka.

Our heroine even remembers the color of the cell on Okrestina.

“A light brown color. And it seemed light for some reason. It was due to the fact that there were these people there.  I’m telling all this now and I feel a strange feeling – both pain and warmth at the same time. These girls will forever be family, because it’s a huge concentration of warmth and support. The cell was cramped, but it seemed big because of each other’s support. These are very strange words, Okrestina is a scary place, but for me that cell was one of the warmest places, because there was support and solidarity,” the woman adds.

There were no showers on Okrestina, the women handed each other one bottle with which they took a “shower” in the cell. The detainees were kept in Okrestina for the first time, then they were transferred to the pre-trial detention center. Even in pre-trial detention center they are taken to shower once a week. As Olga says, in prison the smells mix up and a lot is forgotten.

“When a new girl was admitted to us, she always smelled so good: soap, perfume, clean hair. We used to smell the new girls, they would let us. Everything gets very dull there,” says the political prisoner.

One such “new” woman turned out to be a political prisoner Svetlana Bychkovskaya.

“I remember how they brought her to us. She was detained right at work, she was an employee of the “One Window” service. She was detained for allegedly leaking data to the CHKB. Svetlana was very dressed up: in a white blouse, a beautiful sweater, with makeup and a chic hairstyle. She smelled very good of perfume. My colors had faded by that time, because everything in prison is gray. And when Svetlana came to us, I looked at her with interest, because I had gradually begun to forget what people look like in freedom. Svetlana exhaled when she walked into the cell. After she was transferred to us we were subjected to very hard interrogations. There were times when SIZO staff would run into our cell and shout “Come on, you scum!” and in short… (Note: Olga pauses and does not continue). Sveta was very fond of mythology, she knew a lot of fairy tales and their sequels. It was so interesting! She used to tell us fairy tales, and she stayed just as dressed up” – our heroine tells us with trepidation.

Svetlana was briefly in the cell with Olga, she was then taken away.

“I remember these girls now, and I feel so warm! And warm and sad. I want to keep the memory of each of them,” says Olga.

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