Yuliya is the aunt of the female political prisoner, Vitaliya Bandarenka. Yuliya last saw her beloved niece in January 2021, the day Vitaliya left Belarus but later returned. She was detained and sentenced to four years in prison for participating in the protests in 2020. Yuliya writes touching words in her social media about her niece’s character, Vita’s love for cats, and their shared evenings. We had a conversation with Yuliya, filled with love and support for the political prisoner. Vitaliya will undoubtedly be released from prison and will read it.
“Vita was smiling and calming everyone on the day of her departure. She said that everything would be fine. I hardly slept in the days before I received good news from her. When she came back to Belarus and after her detention, I saw her only during the court processes, and once we had a meeting. During that meeting, she was smiling. She drew heart on the misted glass,” Yuliya shares her memories.
Our interviewee says that Vita missed pleasant smells while she was in the SIZO (pre-trial detention center).
“All the clothes we handed over to her in SIZO were literally saturated with expensive perfumes. Vita wrote that even after several washes, the clothes still retained the scent,” says Yuliya.
During her imprisonment, Vita asks for photos. Many photos.
“She longs for people in her everyday life, for simple communication. In every letter, Vitalina wrote that a few days after her release, we would sit on the balcony, drink tea, talk a lot, and hug each other without shedding a tear. But before that, she wants to take a delightful bubble bath with tons of sea salt. It’s hard for her to be there, especially now. She has already spent two years in prison, and there are two more years to come. The days pass slowly, and there seems to be no end to her sentence,” adds the political prisoner’s aunt.
During her imprisonment, Vita’s vision has deteriorated, and she has developed varicose veins. Yuliya points out that not only her physical health is affected but also her mental well-being.
“Vitaliya has discovered that in moments when she feels scared or deeply offended, she can’t cry; instead, she smiles. And she can’t control it. Her reaction angers those who wanted to see her cry. I live from one news update to another. There is not a day when I don’t think about her. Walking outside, having evening tea, going shopping, walking the dog – I do all of that without her for now, but she is always in my thoughts. I imagine what she would say in those moments. It’s hard. I can’t switch off even for a while. Injustice and inequality are killing me. We talk about her every day at home. She was close to my sons, especially the eldest one. They shared their secrets. Currently, there is a midge invasion in Homel. When I saw that video, I immediately thought of Vita. It’s forbidden to hand over any insect repellents to the prison, and her body reacts excessively to insect bites. Since I can’t help her in any way, I feel helpless and want to cry,” says Yuliya.
The release meeting has been discussed in letters between Vita and Yuliya.
“She wrote that I must meet her without fail. She asked me not to be bothered by her smell. In the beginning, we will sit on the grass for an hour, gaze at the skies, and later, we will go home. She writes that the first thing she will do is take a long shower, and then we will sit on the balcony for several days, drink tea, and chat. None of us will sleep. She asked me to buy shampoo, foams, and creams with the most enjoyable scents. She asked me to book a manicure, brow and eyelash treatments for her,” the woman adds.
Yuliya is certain that her niece has changed in many ways. For example, before, Vita used to trust people more and could understand them.
“I really want to believe that we will manage to comfort and heal her wounded soul. But it will probably be very difficult. She holds on, but inside, she is a little broken warrior. She loves everything that is alive: flowers, birds, warm summers, rivers, cats and dogs, her mom, granny, brothers, and me. Vitaliyna will never ignore injustice, sorrow, or trouble. She will never abandon someone in a difficult moment. She is very kind, cheerful, trusting, and communicative. She is a small girl with a huge heart. She is not greedy, and she will give everything to her beloved person to make her/him feel better. That’s why she returned after leaving the country,” says Yuliya with love in her voice.
The aunt has already bought shampoos for her niece. The aunt is eagerly waiting for her release.