‘No prison can break my zest for life’: One year in letters of jailed Belsat TV journo Katsyaryna Andreyeva

Today, on November 2, Belsat journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva celebrates her birthday. Katsya spent almost the entire 28th year of her life behind bars – she was arrested on November 15, 2020. Belsat.eu publishes excerpts from the journalist’s letters she sent to relatives and friends this year.

Каtsyaryna Andreyeva. Photo: ІА / Belsat

November 2020 – January 2021. Arrest, ‘Akrestsina’ detention centre and Zhodzina prison

“My state of complete shock is gradually passing, and life is taking shape… When I was detained by special services, they shouted:” You’ll go to jail for 7 years, you’ll be sewing police uniform.” The deputy chief of the police department insulted me, pushing me in the back from the stairs. The cops shouted: “You will no longer stream! Never!” The investigator also told me in plain text that “no one will cover my trial”, and I am accused of “usual hooliganism”. And then the convoy called us “political.”

Free Media Awards 2021 go to jailed Belsatters Katsyaryna Andreyeva, Darya Chultsova, other Belarusian journos

***

I learned to wash laundry by hand in a basin, to clean toilets (!), to fall asleep at 22:00 and get up at 06:00, to walk in line, to have fun in the concrete yard 5×5 meters. To make the jail bunks in 20 seconds. To wash myself from head to toes in 10 minutes. To make mascara from activated charcoal, spoons from a can of pate, laces from a sweater. And so on.”

Katsyaryna’s husband Ihar Ilyash meets with his wife after her serving 15-day jail term in ‘Akrestsina’ detention centre. Minsk, 15 September 2020. Photo: ІА / Belsat

Of course, there are moments (and whole days) of mental decline, apathy, oppression of uncertainty, resentment, all wounds start bleeding. Then I remember how Alya always told me when I was a child: “Sadness is a grave sin…” I brew tea with homemade sweets, re-read the letters, and the pain recedes… And to hide that it exists would be quite inappropriate on my part…”

***

The strangest thing is that I do not feel anger, resentment, thirst for revenge against the one who decided to do this to us, to me. What do I feel? Pity for those who carry out orders. A lazy annoyance that only the buzzing of a fly can cause. Poor, poor little people… They’ll have to live with all this, and my life is not ruined, no matter how much they want it.”

February 2021. The prison on Valadarski street, the trial and the sentence – 2 years in jail

“A girl asked me why I was wearing all white: “It can only make them angry, and you’ll go for three years!” I say (that is, something in me makes me open my mouth and say): “It’s ok, I’ll give them these three years in present.” To which she answers, rounding her eyes questioningly: “Have you thought about your husband?!” And here I say the following: “There are things more important than family happiness.” And I cut myself: I said that out loud?!! And I start shivering all over.”

Story of imprisoned Belsat journalists Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova

***

I always had the knowledge that something of the kind would happen to us. All my life I went to it. And I did not have a period of such harmony with myself as I have now, I think.”

***

Everything is relative. I think that prisoners under Article 58 (a political article of the Criminal Code of the USSR, according to which people were persecuted en masse during the Stalinist repressions. – belsat.eu) would have laughed at my sentence in 1949. They would say: what kind of kindergarten is this?.. Even then there were people who were not intimidated by any misfortunes on the way to defending their beliefs. It was much harder than now…”

***

I often dream of an editorial office – it is a collective image of every office where I worked. I walk around it, turn the computer and the dictaphone on and of… I’m getting ready for a press conference. I miss work so much! Suddenly it became clear in the 4th month of imprisonment.”

Katsyaryna Andreyeva. Photo: Belsat

“I read a wonderful book – “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee… There is a wonderful remark of the protagonist, a lawyer: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” This phrase quite accurately describes my attitude to work…”

March – May 2021. The prison on Valadarski street, return to Zhodzina prison and waiting for transfer to a colony

“The girls repeatedly told me, ‘It’s easier to plead guilty and get parole.’ Among the arguments: you will be almost thirty, your youth is passing by, no one will appreciate your principles. Like, no one needs this feat, people will soon forget about you… As if I was holding on to the opinion of the public! I did and am doing it solely for myself! After all, the term will end, and with myself I will live to the rest of my life.

And I want to live without internal contradictions, without cowardly excuses to myself. I need to be able to look straight into my children’s eyes when they ask to tell them about the prison.”

***

Belsat journalists awarded ‘Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media’ in absentia

The main thing is to keep your soul intact so that no evil touches it, but flies away as if burnt with fire. And in fact, in 4.5 months I have not caught any rudeness or the habit of swearing (I even watch the purity of speech), I still do not feel anger and resentment… Somehow on a walk a woman asked me; “Why do you always smile?” And I answered honestly, “Because I’m experiencing a feeling of complete moral victory.”

***

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and see myself in a prison cell, as if from outside. Then I want to wake up again and find myself in a cosy home bed, next to you, in your arms. I close my eyes, open them, but still see the same picture, of which I’m already pretty tired…”

Wedding of Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Ihar Ilyash in 2016. Photo: family archive

***

I was forced to interrupt our daily dialogue – I travelled, you see. Your love and the impulses that you constantly send me helped me to pass the transfer to the colony with a smile and a good mood (which surprised the people around me). On the way I was accompanied by our favourite question: “Was it worth it?” This season’s fashion entertainment is seeing round eyes when people hear the answer: “Yes, of course.” I know I’m not the only one doing it.”

***

Better than under Rákosi, worse than under Jaruzelski: What can repressions in Belarus be compared to?

The main mystery of the coming months: what specialty will I acquire for the resume 🙂 What kind of life is there? I’m so curious and excited. What kind of people will I meet? Tere they are all adequate.

May – October 2021. The transfer to Homel and life in the colony

Katsyaryna Andreyeva in 2016.

On the morning of the 22nd I arrived at the colony… The road is quite tiring, but I endured… once again marvelling at my endurance. It always seems that I have no strength, and then it appears literally out of nowhere! I think it’s the impulses of your love and support that helped me.

The brightest impression is to be on the street for the first time in six months. Walking on the asphalt, basking in the sunshine, rejoicing in the warm breeze. And when I saw a flower, I started crying with joy. The sky is so huge, blue, the clouds are like whipped cream!.. Yet no prison can break my zest for life!”

***

Jailed Belsat journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva receives solidarity letter from mayor of Prague

I work in the garment industry. The first three months in the status of “student seamstress”… At first I did not know how to approach this machine, a day later already sew a little, and a two days later handed over my first batch of covers for shoulder straps. Today I learned to sew woollen hats… I really like sewing, it’s such a soothing activity, and it’s especially nice when after unsuccessful attempts it finally turns out right…

Well, for the rest… I stick to myself, read books in the rare free minutes. Usually fatigue is such that by the end of the day you fall off your feet. There are pros in this – I sleep well…”

Darya Chultsova (L) and Katsyarya Andreyeva (R) in court. Minsk, 9 February 2021. Photo: AB / Belsat

Now I pursue the only main goal: to keep my conscience clear. It seems to me that such a goal should now be set by all who consider themselves to be the national elite. And then those of them who survive physically will begin to create the beautiful on the ruins of the past.”

***

I promised myself that I would not allow round glasses, cracked on the asphalt under a military boot, to be made a symbol of the era. No, no, no. Not this time. The Belarusian intelligentsia in our person will no longer allow history to close the loop.”

***

Imprisoned Belsat TV journo Katsyaryna Andreyeva may be released in September 2022

I come to the thought of the need to keep studying. It’s not even about a diploma, entering the university, but about the desire to learn more, master more, expand my horizons, because there is no end to this process. I want to: study French (to the level of my English and Spanish), deepen my knowledge of philology, take a course in screenwriting and drama (because I do not leave the idea to try myself in theatre and cinema). Remaining in journalism, I want to perform in related roles, to get closer to the world of art.”

***

“Very soon I will turn 28… Of course, I will reflect on this topic separately, but now I want to say only one thing: I do not regret anything I experienced.”

Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova sentenced to two years of imprisonment

You can show your support and write to Katsya:

Katsyaryna Bakhvalava (Andreyeva)

Penal colony Nr 4,

Antoshkin Street 3

246035 Homiel, Belarus

Don’t forget to enclose an empty envelope so that the girls could respond to your letter. Thank you for your unindifference!

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