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With my head lying on a plastic bottle - prison diary.

More than 36,000 people have been arrested in Belarus over the past year for political reasons. The author, Andrej Dyńko, is still under criminal investigation. His colleagues, the editors of Naša Niva, Jahor Marcinovič and Andrej Skurko, are being held in the Valadarka prison in Minsk.

Credits Text: Dynko Andrej Translation: Jim Dingley & Ella Dingley Margate November 15 2021

I’m being led along a concrete corridor. The floor is grey, covered in oil paint the same nasty shiny shade of mint green that you can see on the dado. And that’s all I can see. No, I’m not actually being led, they’re in fact dragging me along, with my left arm twisted behind my back, my head bent low. They’ve also ordered me to hold my right arm behind my back; my right hand is squeezing a plastic bag with a few things, it’s bouncing around on my bottom – this is all that is left to me of the world where twelve hours ago I was the 47-year-old father of three children and editor of the most popular magazine in the Belarusian language.

“Face the wall! Arms behind your back!”

A 20cm-long key rattles loudly in the lock.

“Get yourself in the cell, fighter!”

The cell greets me with the stuffy, putrid, pungent smell of urine and faeces. You dive straight into it, just as if you were plunging into the water of your new life.

White light

A dazzling, bright, white light hits you from two lamps on the side as well from the lamp in the ceiling. I look round, blinded after the semi-darkness of the corridor. Two-tier bunk beds, no mattresses, no pillows, just bare boards. From between the bunks a skinny, swarthy lad of about twenty five stumbles out, naked to the waist, stubbled. “Jahor’s the name! I’m a terrorist”. He offers me his hand and at the very same moment shows me his arrest papers. “I’m in luck, they’ve put me in with a political,” I say to myself. It isn’t so much his papers that tell me that – I was prepared to be put in straight away with an informer or an agent provocateur – as the lad’s looks, his intelligent voice and the open face of a man unspoiled, in some ways like the actor Tom Cruise as he was in ‘Top Gun’. “And I am the editor of Naša Historyja and Naša Niva. Do you know the publication?”

Naša Niva! Good grief! They’re even putting people like that inside!”

The lad was clearly overjoyed at his new fellow inmate.

First of all he offered me some bread. There was a little mountain of whole and partially chewed slices of bread lying on the bare, dirty brown table, in the midst of breadcrumbs. I feel queasy at the mere thought of eating such bread. I am still very much aware of the stench wafting from the never or rarely cleaned toilet right here in the corner. My nose has not yet got used to it.

I pull the remains of a bar of chocolate out of the plastic bag. When I was being led away from the house today with the neighbours watching, their eyes full of tears, my wife pushed a bar of chocolate and a sweet into my hand. This is what I ate for my supper in the car with a convoy provided by the Organized Crime Squad. “Take half!” Jahor couldn’t restrain himself, he literally threw himself at the chocolate, but broke off only one of the remaining five squares. “No, no, no, the rest is for you.” He hastily chews his piece of the chocolate, and offers me his bunk, because “it doesn’t get so much light”. What do you mean, don’t they switch the light off at night? They do, in cells where there are only criminals, but in cells where there is even just one political in among the other inmates, they never do. This is what Jahor has found out from criminals that he’s been in cells with. They don’t switch the light off, and they don’t give you mattresses or bedding.

You’ll get up to 20 years

“What do you think is going to happen to me?”, he keeps asking me. “Will they let me go? I didn’t do anything. I was only signed up to a Telegram chat channel. The investigator says, “You’ll get up to 20 years.”

I try to explain the logic of the system to him as best as I can. I reckon it’s necessary to be realistic and allow for every possible variant, including the worst possible one – that they’ll never let you out. Jahor is different: he cannot let go of the thought that they’re going to set him free soon. For hours on end he tries to work out when it’s going to happen. It’s going to be on Tuesday, or on Monday. He’s thirty two but still wet behind the ears, he’s in prison for the first time in his life. Scrawny and grim-faced after all he’s been through, he looks younger than his years, this electrician from the ‘Euroopt’ hypermarket with a university degree that failed to bring him a job that matched his qualifications. From the questions the investigator put to him, he reached the conclusion that he had been arrested because he had studied at a university in Poland. “That’s why they arrested me! They can’t possibly arrest all the five thousand people who subscribe to that chat.” He is still looking for some kind of logic.

Bright-eyed and naive, this electrician ‘terrorist’.

“I had only just landed the job! A good one too, you can clear five hundred euro a month by working a shift and a half. Do you think they’ll fire me?” Jahor is displaying his anxiety. “It isn’t definite that they’ll fire you.” I’m trying to calm him down. “Clever people can find a way round these problems, they’ll transfer you from one department to another. There’s massive solidarity everywhere now.” And that’s the truth, I’m not making it up.

A Polish one grosz coin

“Look what I’ve found: a Polish one grosz coin. If we sharpen it, we could use it like a knife to cut things with”, and he reaches the coin over to me. I jerk my hand away, and the coin falls to the floor. “What’s wrong, do you think I’m trying to set you up?” Jahor is surprised.

I don’t say anything.

They can, Jahor, they can arrest five thousand if they want.

I try to explain to him that, in theory, they ought to release him and dozens of ‘terrorists’ like him, that mass arrests in cases like his are intended to frighten people, and at the same time to give them an opportunity to confiscate money and hardware from activists. “They’ll release you too, you’ll see,” says Jahor in an attempt to convince me.

“My case is different,” I tell him. “They took us to frighten people as well, but in this instance to frighten those journalists who have not yet gone abroad, to make them panic and flee. And my colleagues and I are also hostages that they need to barter with the West.” Europe introduces sanctions as a reaction to repression in Belarus. The regime’s response is to arrest more activists, and close down the independent media and civil society organisations. And so it goes on, round and round the spiral.

Get some sleep

The national anthem was played, a sign that it was time to go to bed. We toss and turn on the bare boards, trying to get to sleep. He manages to do it, but I can’t. I seem to have been turning from one side to the other for two hours now. I’m not used to sleeping on bare boards, they cut into my ribs. The computer of my brain is feverishly turning over and over again the events of today and the whole of this year: there are people in masks running towards my house, my fingers are shaking, I can’t hit the right keys when I try to write a message to my colleagues, the people in masks are already at the door. What could you have done differently? What was it you said wrong? How could you have saved yourself from all this? Why didn’t you leave, you idiot, why did you go on being a journalist in a country where journalism is no longer possible? What is your wife going through right now? Your children? Your mother? What’s going to happen?

There’s a rattling metallic sound in the corridor, a noise of rubber shuffling against the concrete floor, the iron cell door opens with a clang. Two creatures tumble into the cell. One of them is wearing torn, dirty jeans, and an unwashed t-shirt; he has two black eyes. The other is thin as a rake, in a far from clean orange t-shirt and long, greasy shorts that had once been blue with tiny green polka dots. The creatures hold out their hands to us; I bump fists with them. It is immediately obvious that they aren’t politicals.

“What the fuck? Where are the mattresses? What’s this then, mates, you just sleep without mattresses? Oi, where’s the bleedin’ officer in charge?” He started banging on the door with all his might. “Oi, you out there, wotcha put me in a punishment cell for?” This racket goes on for some time. The duty officer shouts back that the mattresses have gone to be disinfected and he doesn’t know when they’ll be back. I hear the last word of this junior officer; he mocks him by dragging out the ‘ee’ of the last word – “Get some sleep”.

There’s no using your fists inside a prison

The ones who have just been brought in grab hold of the bread on the table and start scoffing, they’ve been held the whole day in a police station without being given anything to eat. I get out the chocolate and pass them a piece each. For a second their faces shine. I do not know how to behave in front of habitual criminals, I keep a watchful eye on them, trudge from corner to corner of the cell, like an animal in the zoo. Jahor already knows this pair, he’s spent some time in the same cell with them earlier. I watch Jahor closely. He treats these new inmates and talks to them just like they’re ordinary people – neighbours of his, or fellow students at uni – simply and calmly. When one of the pair drops his dirty mask from the upper bunk, Jahor picks it up and hands it to him, just as he would return the ticket to a woman in the bus when she had let it drop to the ground. And the criminal thanks him in a steady voice, just as the woman would have thanked him for the ticket.

This is one of the small cells; in the prisons on Akreścina and Valadarka Streets there are cells that hold up to twenty five people – or up to sixteen in a cell intended for four people. That’s how they hold politicals who have been sentenced to a period of arrest for an administrative offence. They ‘re-educate’ people by making it difficult for them to breathe in the stuffy atmosphere.

It seems like the criminals have already become accustomed here and there to doing time inside along with politicals; they accept this form of co-habitation as the new norm. As a rule, being in prison is like being on a small island, where you might find animals saving themselves from a flood – wolves, hares, foxes, hamsters and bears all together waiting patiently for the water to go down, and no one bites or eats anyone. This may be the situation only until hunger reaches a critical level, I don’t know. Some of the criminals are surprised by my speaking Belarusian, and my habit of addressing them politely. “You should get used to the new authority!”, I joke. These are all petty criminals: thieves, alcoholics, small-time crooks – not exactly the crême-de-la-crême of the criminal world. They tell me about what it’s like being in this or that prison, what the different routines and regulations are. How there’s never any fighting in a detention centre: “there’s no using your fists inside a prison”. But once you’re in a labour camp — there are frequent fights.

Alongside the politicals, the criminals are also beginning to think seriously about ‘something’ and about ‘being called human’.1

Used matchsticks and a letter to Alexievich

The criminal elements are as much aware of the worst aspect of our penitentiary system as we, the politicals, are. It was well described by Leo Tolstoy in his novel Resurrection, and has in this ‘pre-trial detention facility’ reached a level of perfection that drives the inmates mad: the enforced idleness, this doing nothing, this inability to busy yourself with anything. In cells with politicals it is forbidden to have newspapers or books, and – in flagrant disregard of all norms – we are not allowed to have even pens or pencils. My greatest treasure is the two used matchsticks that I found in a corner. I’ve used them to scratch a short letter on the back of my arrest warrant to the Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich.

“Chief, let’s have a newspaper, any kind” – this is the humble, humiliating request that anyone passing down a prison corridor can hear coming from the tiny hatch in the door through which food is passed. It’s a petty thief making the request – he’s a builder from a poor neighbourhood. All he gets in reply is a stony-voiced, mendacious “It’s not allowed”. The thief dreams of being transferred to the Valadarka prison: “There are books in every cell there, and you can order more books from the library.” The thirst for reading is such a simple act of striving for culture. “It’s not allowed!”

My fellow inmates ask me questions, I answer them, it all grows into lectures on the history of Belarus and Europe. It gives some sense to life, it draws me out of the stupefaction brought on by a chronic lack of sleep. And I begin to recognise the unfortunate individuals inside these habitual offenders; most of them are dependent on alcohol and drugs, ever since they were children they have been living in an environment where stealing and cheating were not seen as something abnormal. I begin to see in them a resistance to dehumanization.

There is nothing in this ‘pre-trial detention facility’ designed to help people change, to develop the best in themselves, to enable them to see a way forward. No, this place has but one aim – to create such intolerable conditions that no one would ever want to find themselves here again. It doesn’t work, though. Belarus holds pride of place in Europe for the number of prisoners per head of population. That is probably the one and only thing in which Belarus leads.

You won’t even get that in a punishment cell

Most of the unfortunates with whom fate has brought me in contact live just for the day. Tomorrow they’ll forget the torments of yesterday and think about their share of pleasure for this one specific day – cheap plonk, or a drug hit. This, of course, costs money. And so here they go again, around the circles of hell, which – for an hour or for ever – makes of them a ‘no-longer-human’, a being that leads no more than a vegetative existence, that is fed just about enough so that it doesn’t starve, that receives just enough oxygen through the food hatch so as not to suffocate, that is provided with just enough grey strips of toilet paper for this pathetic creature not to have to wipe its backside with its bare hand.

All the achievements of European culture now lie far away, beyond reach. Preserving your human dignity here means preserving the most elementary norms of hygiene and health. If you are a political, life here becomes a daily struggle not to allow yourself to be turned into an animal.

There’s a lifehack I’ve adopted from the criminals; you can sleep on a plastic bottle of water. It’s best not to fill it right up, and then it’s soft and won’t cut into your head.

There may sometimes be momentary flashes of mercy that appear in the people of the system – senior officers, female warders and nurses, but the system and its instructions function in such a way as to make individuals come to see themselves as animals without rights, dreaming only of not having their piece of bread taken away, and there being a place where you can somehow lay your head down. Because you won’t even get that in a punishment cell.

If this is a man…

The system does its work through tiny details. In one of the cells the toilet doesn’t flush. (The word ‘toilet’ here means a hole in the floor with a groove in front of it.) All you have is a bottle of water from which you must also drink, and which you use to sleep on, and now you have to use it to flush the loo after yourself as well. There are toilet brushes in every cell, but they’ve all been worn down to the stick, and it’s very difficult for you to get the remains of your crap into a state where you can flush it away with the water from your bottle. There are cells where the only loo is a bucket, and there are some fifteen people locked up in the cell. I know an outstanding student who was given fifteen days inside for some careless words uttered at the graduation ball. She was unable to overcome her shame and use the bucket in front of everyone else in the cell. She was released from prison with a bowel obstruction.

Another cell. Here the toilet is fenced in with thick sheets of metal. The lower part of these metal sheets has gone completely rusty from the water and splashes of urine, but the main thing is the heavy metal door on three hinges: it gives off a howling shriek like the wind in Yakutia that cuts right through you whenever you open or shut it. Considering that there are sixteen people in the cell, there is bound to be somebody who has to go to the loo at night, and then everyone else – including those in the adjoining cells – is woken up by this ominous shrieking. You begin a desperate struggle for your last little bit of comfort. You try to calculate the angle of the door before the shrieking starts, and come to some sort of agreement with your fellow inmates not to open or shut the door completely, but only move it from point x to point y. Of course not everyone is going to observe the agreement; in the cell there is inevitably a tramp who lives on a different planet, and a prisoner who has been reduced to the depths of despair by his utter fear of never getting out of this ‘other world’, and so doesn’t hear the shriek that is so intolerable to everyone else.

In another cell – the politicals in the ‘pre-trial detention facility’ are continually shifted from one cell to another; this strengthens your sense of being helpless and rootless, you have no time to make friends or get close to other people – there’s no waste bin, there are piles of rubbish all over the place. Three times you humbly beg for a waste bin or plastic bag through the door hatch, and the officer yells back that there aren’t any. On the next morning that selfsame officer who yelled at you enters to inspect the cell, and, enraged by the rubbish that you have neatly swept into a corner, shouts “Are you fucking mad, or what? Pick that fucking mess up at once!” “But there isn’t a waste bin,” you bleat in humiliation. “Should I give a fucking monkey’s?” he snarls through his teeth, in an intonation that has been honed over years of practice.

All the time I am reminded of the book If this is a man by Primo Levi. He survived Auschwitz. They take everything away from you – freedom, material possessions, time. But the first to lose their humanity are the executioners, not the victims.

Toilet soap

You can find besoms in the cells more often than not, but I have never once come across a dustpan. When you’re sweeping up, you have to collect all the dirt on a piece of paper – and the paper you’re most likely to have is the warrant for your arrest, something that you are obliged to keep with you, and – here’s the joke – this piece of paper also informs you that your rights will be explained to you. If you’re not going to be able to gather the dirt on to a piece of paper, you can do it with a dirty rag that’s lying on the floor, then rinse it out in the basin where you wash yourself – there’s nowhere else. If there is a special piece of rag for washing the basin, you can soap it up with the lump of soap that’s about the size of half a match box; everyone in the cell has to use it for washing their hands, hair, socks, all parts of their body, and their spoons before eating-- there is only one lump of soap. The soap lies on the washbasin; there isn’t a soap dish, so it floats and dissolves. If there were soap dishes in the cells, even a lump of soap like this – it bears a bit of the proud inscription ‘Toilet Soap’, it’s grey and soft like plasticine – as I say, even a lump of soap like this would last twice twice as long, but the one thing there isn’t is a soap dish.

And you have to wash yourself. You realise that, if you stop washing, you’ll lose all sense of being human. If you wear a vest under your shirt, you take it off, so that you can use it to dry yourself. There’s no towel. You wash your hair beneath the tap above the washbasin, you wash your backside with your bottle of water above the loo. The days are scorching hot, it’s about 40 degrees in the cell, and it’s stuffy – there’s always someone washing themselves, or someone trying to dry their clothes after they’ve been washed. And then you start to hate the Belarusian Red Cross and its smooth bosses from the Ministry of Health that are supposed to ensure that all prisoners are supplied with items of personal hygiene. This is the same Red Cross that has representatives sitting on nearly every ‘electoral commission’ at every ‘election’.

A bowl of boiled eggs

If there are a lot of people in the cell, there will always be someone who is eating his breakfast because he’s hungry, while – just a metre away – there’ll be someone emptying his bowels in order to free up space for his portion of buckwheat cooked with water and his piece of government issue bread.

The black bread is sticky, like glue. The white bread is dry and crumbles easily. Both are completely tasteless, with no seasoning of any kind, just like all the food. Once every few days they give you a quarter of a tomato, and in another few days you get half a small salted cucumber. Another time they’ll come up with a spoonful of sauerkraut. After several days of this you are already beginning to thirst for vitamins, but there aren’t any. Apples appear to you in your dreams. You dream that you’ve gone to see granny in the country, and she gives you a bowl of rosy red apples.

On one occasion a kindly warder pushed a bowl of boiled eggs through the door hatch, but we were afraid to eat the two each that we could have had in case we became constipated; we were also uncertain about trying to keep them in the 40-degree heat of the cell, so we passed them back. Another time a girl pushed a bowl of tinned peas through the hatch, and for two whole days we added them to our soups and porridge. On yet another occasion a warder let us have a bowl of unripe green tomatoes from the previous year’s harvest, or even from the year before that. We hid them, because we didn’t know if whoever came for the next inspection would take them away with a shout of “What’s all this unsanitary shit, then?”

Gradually, by day three or five, even the pickiest of prisoners start o scrape off all the bits of pearl barley slime that are stuck to the sides of their metal bowls, trying not to lose a single calorie, or any chance of finding a microgram of vitamin C. Survive! Survive and stay human! – that’s the order you give yourself. You put your bread on your bowl, so that it doesn’t come into contact with the table. After you’ve eaten, you clean your plate with rapid movements of the index finger. It isn’t difficult; there’s never any fat residue on the plate. The only kind of fat we are given is the hydrogenated vegetable fat they put in cutlets that are served up to us on a bed of bran. In the real world this kind of ‘delicacy’ might make you want to vomit, but in that world you eat it – after all, it is a fat, and there might be some desperate life-loving amino acid surviving inside it.

Women’s laughter

There are women politicals in the neighbouring cells where the conditions are exactly the same. On one occasion we hear them laughing. What have they found so funny? This women’s laughter arouses in us a veritable fountain of dopamines; it’s a breeze of normalcy that comes wafting to us from the land of the living. By sheer chance my path is later going to cross with the path of one of the women in that cell. She told me what they had found so funny: a woman was brought into the cell who had some frankfurters on her. She had been arrested when she was going home from a shop. That’s how she was delivered to the prison – together with her frankfurters. “It was the tastiest supper we ever had in our time there,” her fellow inmate sighed. Unfortunately, the woman with the frankfurters has not been released. The 44-year-old Taćciana Astroŭskaja, a volunteer working for the fund “A country fit for life”, is still behind bars; she has already been transferred to another prison. In official terms, she ‘was arrested on 9 July as part of an operation run by the Committee of State Security to clear the country of radically inclined elements’.

Varieties of not-quite-humans

In other nearby cells there are citizens of other countries awaiting deportation. Some of them have been here for half a year, one year, two years, until such time as their native Gambia or Ukraine can be in a hurry to receive them. The deportees have mattresses, and the lights in their cells are switched off at night. They also have another two golden bonuses: every day they are taken out for a two-hour period of exercise in the prison yard, and in the evening they are given an extra ration of black and white bread. Not even the most heartless of the female duty officers and doctors can fail to be touched by these deportees, hidden away in this prison world for long months and years. The female warders allow themselves to stand for a while next to a door hatch – beneath a warder’s trousers there is a feminine form that radiates freshness and freedom – and chat normally with these poor fellows of different skin colours, all of them starved of human contact. And the female doctors give these unfortunate deportees tablets: aspirin, dimedrol, other things – to help them get some sleep in the stuffy atmosphere of their cells.

Somewhere hundreds of kilometers from here to the borders of the European Union, there are migrants making their way by sea from Libya, wandering through the forests on the Lithuanian border. They are a source of pain and horror for Europe, they have fallen for the promises of evil men that they can be rescued from all their misfortunes. How much more fortunate are these unfortunates on the sea or in the forest than we are in the Akreścina prison.

Even deportees here are not-quite-humans of a high category, whereas we, the politicals, are not-quite-humans of the lowest order – we are ‘pointy-toed ungulates’.

With the aim of destabilisation

One day when my fellow inmate feels especially anxious – we, the politicals, are alone again, the hardened criminals have been taken off to a detention facility before being moved on to a labour camp – I retrieve the last ten grams of chocolate and break it into our oatmeal, so that we each get five grams. The porridge bursts with flavour. Each spoonful bears the taste of home, of the past, and of happiness. This festive breakfast raises our spirits.

Your fellow inmate on this day is another one ‘suspected of terrorism’. Article 289, para. 2 of the Criminal Code. These terrorists are put one to a cell, they are never put together. They are all intelligent, well-educated. This particular one is a lecturer in the Belarusian National Technical University. The terrorism of these terrorists consists of their being subscribed to a protest chat channel – apparently one of those set up by the secret services themselves.

There are identical notes in the records of their arrest. “On 26 June Citizen Hlotaŭ, conspiring with as yet unidentified individuals, by means of an explosive device (there follows a long description of its numerous parts) caused damage to the eleventh antenna of the ‘Antheus’ radar complex of the Marine forces of the Russian Federation in the Minsk Province of the Republic of Belarus.” Oh yes, I forgot, right at the beginning, before ‘Citizen Hlotaŭ’ the document says: “With the aim of destabilisation of the social and political situation”. “I’ve been inside for six and a half years, and this is the first time I’ve ever met a terrorist!”, a 25-year old thickset, ginger-haired criminal from Sierabranka said yesterday, with respect in his voice.

“Did they actually show the damaged antenna?” he asks. “Some sort of bullshit. If it really had been blown up, they would have reported it on every TV and radio station.

The criminal brethren have become accustomed to doubting

everything and believing no one. “Don’t believe them, don’t be afraid of them, don’t beg them for anything” – that is the old principle of survival in Soviet prisons.

Keep strong!

If the ‘terrorists’ are to be believed – and there is no reason not to believe them, they all seem so naive – they only read the chat and did not actually submit anything to it, then freedom awaits them in ten days, although their telephones and money will be confiscated.  ut what’s waiting for you? They can accuse an editor of anything they want. I’ve seen through the hatch how colleagues of mine are being led along the corridor. I’ve heard them bringing in streams of new detainees, including the internationally known human rights defender Alieś Bialacki from the ‘Viasna’ centre.

The criminal from Sierabranka is snoring in the top bunk on the right. Below him is a lad trying to shield himself from the burning light with a wet t-shirt that he’s hung up. He was accused of showing ‘disrespect to a representative of an organ of state authority’ (he told us yesterday in a whisper that one of the arresting officers whispered to him as he was being led away “Keep strong!”).

Above me a drug addict is writhing around as if he’s riding an invisible bicycle. He was on a methadone programme, but succumbed to the temptation of someone else’s manbag. Now he’s in withdrawal, he doesn’t eat anything and is vomiting bile. This is his fifth time in prison, he’s thin and yellow, like wax, and he limps; at the age of 37 he’s got to have his hip joint replaced. He tosses, turns and groans, and I lie curled up on the bare boards, a bottle beneath my head instead of a pillow. I cover my eyes from the all-penetrating light and think a heavy, intolerable thought: what is going to happen to me and my children?

100% and 99.7%

It will mean the end if they move me from here to the Valadarka prison. Those who are formally accused of a crime are not going to be freed. In Belarus 100% of trials in political cases end in a guilty verdict (but then, in Belarus 99.7% of criminal trials also end in guilty verdicts – it’s impossible to plead justification). I was scared yesterday when I found myself  – like the defendants in the 1937 trials who slandered themselves in order to make the torture stop – begging God to have me moved to the Valadarka as soon as possible – better the certainty of prison for x years than this endless waiting, with my head lying on a plastic bottle beneath this harsh, white light.

At the bottom of my plastic prison bag lies my wife’s 40-gram sweet, a ‘Minsk toffee’, now slightly crumpled, as if stifled by this ‘other world’. It’s in a red wrapper, depicting a gleeful hedgehog proudly dragging a giant yellow apple.

* *

More than 36,000 people have been arrested in Belarus over the past year for political reasons. The author, Andrej Dyńko, is still under criminal investigation. His colleagues, the editors of Naša Niva, Jahor Marcinovič and Andrej Skurko, are being held in the Valadarka prison in Minsk.

Translated by Jim and Ella Dingley

Margate, 14.11.2021

* *

1 Quote from a poem by the Belarusian classic Janka Kupala: ‘What Do These Belarusians Want? They Only Want To Be Called Human’.

Translated by Jim and Ella Dingley

Margate, 14.11.2021

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