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Letters From a Russian Political Prisoner

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” the main impression is authorised to write home to his mother and children twice a year.

It is 1951, dual years before Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin’s death. Solzhenitsyn’s impression Ivan Sukhov, who is being hold in a labor stay for political prisoners, compares essay letters to “throwing stones into a unfounded pool.”

“They sank though a trace,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, who himself spent 8 years in a labor stay for criticizing Stalin in private correspondence.

For those now behind Russian jail bars on politically encouraged charges, the Soviet epoch of repression competence not seem so distant away. But one thing has indisputably changed: they are authorised to receive letters — in some cases hundreds of them — from total strangers.

While available his hearing at a Moscow apprehension center, Ilya Gushchin, 27, perceived roughly 60 letters a month, many from total strangers. He told The Moscow Times they acted as a lifeline.

One of a letters created by Bolotnoye protester Ivan Nepomnyashchikh. View in aloft fortitude here. 

“A window into a universe where there are no bars and barbed wire, cons and cops, or this terrible sound, that we feel in your bones, of a [guard’s] pivotal branch twice,” pronounced Gushchin, who was convicted to more than 2 1/2 years in prison for participating in an anti-Kremlin critique in 2012.

While Gushchin was expelled in August 2015, around 50 Russians sojourn in prison on politically encouraged charges, according to the Memorial tellurian rights organization. The letters they receive, some of which are common online by volunteer organizations, give a rare discernment into the minds of those whose trials have dominated headlines and their supporters, even as the official open sermon stresses invariable unrestrained for President Vladimir Putin and his policies.

Bolotnoye Fallout

Gushchin was usually 24 years aged when he was incarcerated along with hundreds of protesters at a mass critique opposite Putin’s re-election on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Ploshchad on May 6, 2012. Many of those incarcerated were after convicted on charges of participating in a mass demonstration or regulating assault opposite the police.

The police’s clumsy response to the Bolotnoye rally, that followed identical protests that began in December 2011, valid a watershed impulse and heralded a crackdown on dissent in Putin’s third tenure as president.

Out of the Bolotnoye case — as the legal harm of scores of detainees became known — came RosUznik, that was set adult as a crowdfunding tallness to help cover authorised costs. After many of the Bolotnoye suspects’ trials resulted in prison sentences — the case is ongoing 3 years after the rally — RosUznik shifted focus. It now functions especially as a postal service, permitting Russians to submit letters online and sending them on to domestic prisoners, including the Bolotnoye convicts, giveaway of charge.

Alexei Navalny with his brother, Oleg. Both organisation were charged with piracy in what they contend is a politically encouraged case. Oleg was condemned to 3 1/2 years in prison.

You’ve Got Mail

Every day, Nikita Kanunnikov, 28, checks his inbox for new mail submitted by the RosUznik website.

Depending on where the relevant restrained is being held — some apprehension centers and prisons accept emails while others usually accept earthy letters — Kanunnikov skeleton a delivery. Sometimes he contacts a relative or familiarity of the invalid and they act as personal couriers.

Those who contention their letters on the RosUznik website can do so anonymously, or concede them to be published on RosUznik’s website, where they can be review by anybody. Other jail postal services do exist, though they are paid: the FSIN-Pismo use charges 55 rubles ($0.70) per page-long letter. More importantly, senders have to know the exact sum and location of the inmate — a requirement that increases the difficulty for ordinary Russians given inmates are mostly eliminated between apprehension centers and prisons. RosUznik keeps lane of the prisoners’ locale and figures out how to keep communication lines open.

Some prisoners usually accept a handful of letters. Others, like Nadezhda Savchenko — a Ukrainian commander who has been indicted of abetting the killing of two Russian journalists — accept hundreds. “Her box was widely lonesome in the press. She stands out and always responds, so it’s engaging to correspond with her,” pronounced Kanunnikov.

In total, RosUznik delivered about 2,000 letters final year.

A minute by domestic opening artist Pyotr Pavlensky. View in aloft fortitude here. 

Gushchin, the former Bolotnoye suspect, perceived letters from places as distant detached as northwest Russia’s Arkhangelsk segment and Siberia’s Tomsk. He pronounced they enclosed letters from civil rights activists and “softly [politically] engaged” people who mostly upheld the current regime in theory though had come into confrontation with it by their work.

Alexei Polikhovich, 25, another Bolotnoye consider who was expelled from prison in October, pronounced it was, paradoxically, the government’s draconic response to protesters that pushed some of his minute writers into the stay of the supposed “opposition.”

One of those people is Tatyana, 44, who heads a laboratory in Moscow. She frequently writes to Oleg Navalny, the younger hermit of opposition personality Alexei Navalny who was condemned to 3 1/2 years in prison in an piracy box that many see as fabricated. Tatyana’s association with Navalny is a family affair — the letters are created in the participation and with the participation of her dual children and husband. Replies are also review out loud.

But she is not a political activist, pronounced Tatyana, who asked for her surname not to be enclosed for fear of persecution.

“I am a regular person. we write to someone, whom we knew unequivocally tiny about before the political repression. My proclivity is simple — we wish them to feel upheld and for them to know that we sympathize.”

Tatyana also embodies another trend — many of RosUznik’s minute writers are women. Kanunnikov, who works as a programmer by day, believes they feel some-more gentle about publicly expressing empathy. “I myself unequivocally onslaught with essay letters,” he added.

Opposition romantic Ivan Nepomnyash­chikh was condemned to 2 1/2 years in prison for hitting military officers with an umbrella during the Bolotnoye protests.


The RosUznik tallness also provides typical Russians with an opportunity to question the prisoners — many of whose cases perceived far-reaching coverage in the media — about their views. Sometimes, it functions as a simple parable buster. In one of the letters published on RosUznik’s website, a writer called Darya asked Pyotr Pavlensky, who set glow to the doors of the Federal Security Service final year, either his attempt was in any approach connected to the Hollywood film “V for Vendetta.”

“No, there is no link!” Pavlensky responded. “I saw this film once, and I suspicion it was one of the worst, boring, lifeless and formulaic films that we have ever seen.”

The letters also display a layer of society that is vicious of the Kremlin though mostly goes unnoticed. Public critique in Russia is singular due to a enlightenment of political detachment and fear of retribution. The handful of opposition marches that do take place core around Russia’s biggest cities and the especially pro-Kremlin media is clever to portray Putin and his policies as enjoying invariable support.

It creates the Russians who do not come out to protest invisible — until RosUznik sends on their letters and publishes them online.

“Before these letters we suspicion that many of my friends and acquaintances didn’t know the motivation behind my actions and generally consider we am insane,” Ildar Dadin wrote in an open minute to RosUznik. Dadin final year became the first chairman to be condemned to prison time underneath a Russian law that allows people to be detained for protesting several times at unsanctioned rallies.

The letters also yield Russians with a glimpse into the conditions and psychological impact of incarceration — accounts that relate those of dissidents in other ages.

“I am sealed in a tiny dungeon for three people,” Ivan Nepomnyashchikh — who was condemned to 2 1/2 years for “assaulting police” during the Bolotnoye protest — wrote in one of the letters uploaded online.

“My associate inmates are my age, we get along well. The food here is utterly tolerable. But here’s the strange thing: Being here robs we of your identity. You start dissolving between these walls, we forget what kind of person we are. As if we were thrown into the center of an ocean, where we can’t see the shore and it is misleading where to swim since there is no course point. Letters like yours, Ilya, offer as course points to me. we remember what kind of society we am from, and my dual lives — before and after my attainment at Butyrka [prison] — combine into one and everything falls into place.”

Gushchin, the former Bolotnoye suspect, pronounced it was the letters describing people’s daily slight that helped him many during his time behind bars.

“The categorical thing that we missed in prison is elementary tellurian communication though consistent self-censorship,” he said. “Just write as if to an aged crony that we haven’t seen for a prolonged time. Say what is function around we on a daily level. we study, we work, there’s snow, the apple tree is blossoming. These pardonable things spin unequivocally critical [in prison],” he said.

Ildar Dadin became the first chairman to be sent to prison for “repeatedly” violation open public rules.


For Yelena Efros, 56, describing existence is not adequate — she has set adult an beginning to inspire people to contention their possess fairytales and stories to a Facebook organisation so that they can after be sent to a prisoners. She also asks that prisoners send their possess novella in return.

Efros pronounced her plan was “humanitarian,” not political. Some of a stories that have been submitted review like fairytales — including a classical “Once on a time in a land far, distant away” opening. Others decently deceive critique of life underneath Putin — one story’s characters are conveniently named “Good” and “Evil” — and review some-more like domestic allegories.

And during slightest one restrained has responded with his possess “story.” Dmitry Buchenkov — a historian by credentials and a latest chairman to be jailed in a Bolotnoye box — sent a organisation a story about a immature officer who feels artificial with a Nazi regime and joins a resistance. After he is held and tortured, a German officer asks him because he would spin opposite a Nazi regime during a tallness of a excellence and power.

“No energy can final forever,” Buchenkov’s impression says, a criticism that is met with delight by a Gestapo officers. The story symbolically ends with a Soviet explosve shredding a Nazi inquire building “to pieces.”

Ildar Dadin’s open minute to RosUznik. View in aloft fortitude here. 

Cheating the Censors

There is one categorical barrier for writers on both sides of the jail gates — jail censors.

According to Russian law, prisoners are authorised to receive an unlimited series of letters and correspondence can usually be blocked if it is not created in Russian or contains bootleg content, such as state secrets or information that could assistance an inmate dedicate a crime.

But Kanunnikov, of RosUznik, pronounced the application of censor manners was arbitrary.

Though some of his letters to Savchenko were presumably privileged by prison censors, she never perceived them, he said. There was also a period when no letters whatsoever were authorised into Moscow’s Butyrka prison, for no central reason. Senders usually found out months after that essay had been futile. He suspects that restraint letters is infrequently used to put additional vigour on inmates.

The extent to which letters are censored depends mostly on individual censors, not policy, pronounced Polikhovich, the Bolotnoye consider who was expelled final year.

“In each case, a decision is taken privately by the bury depending on his clarity of what is admissible,” pronounced Polikhovich.

The result in his knowledge was many mostly capricious and, in some cases, comical.

“[The censors] would cranky out something they didn’t understand, like wordplay, or famous names or terms that the person checking compared with something unfit or criminal,” pronounced Polikhovich, “Like the name RosUznik.” 

Article source: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/557070.html