Letters to Maryja Kalieśnikava, July 2022
Translation: Jim Gingley
Dear Masha, I wonder if you ever received even one of the letters and postcards that I’ve been sending you since January. I sent fifteen in June, and normally there have been even more. We had a heavy downpour today, 3 June. Nature is probably glad of it. They’re saying in the papers and on TV that the Minsk streets are flooded and people are even swimming on the roadway. There aren’t many people at the open air concerts. Nobody’s showing much enthusiasm. That might well be because of the stifling heat. The temperature’s been up to 30 degrees in the shade. I’ve heard hardly any bangs from the firework displays.
The one thing I feel like doing in this heat is sleep, and that’s exactly what I do every afternoon for an hour or an hour and a half. My head clears only when I have a shower or douse it with cold water, but I can’t go on doing that all the time. I think about how you are coping…
Masha, it must be easy to become disheartened in prison, even though you’re very strong, of course. All the same, I want you to know that everyone is thinking of you, every day we all remember you, and wait for you.
I would like to hope that at least some of my letters will reach you, but even if they don’t there’ll be a copy in the archives.
Dear Masha, It’s a wonderful summer’s day today, it feels like that. It’s cooler and there’s been a shower of rain. Nature has made a summer for us that can make us all happy—but people are capable of spoiling it. I wear shorts at home, I’ve really enjoyed working there and have even found the strength to go to the library to see how my manuscript has been edited. For me this was the best kind of job for the summer. Sure, there are a lot of bad things going on at the moment but even so I feel able today to enjoy life—the weather’s good, the summer evening’s bright, there are lots of trees, their leaves rustle and conceal the apartment block opposite, so that you feel as if you’re somewhere out in the country, the table lamp creates a cosy atmosphere, I don’t feel tired any more. Quite the reverse in fact, my head is fresh and clear.
These days a lot of people can’t be happy through force of circumstance, many feel ashamed even though there are no circumstances involved. They’re ashamed of being safe, they’re ashamed of being free; they’re ashamed of being able to leave the country and stay abroad. There are those who feel deeply troubled. I’m glad that today has turned out well for me, this is where I am wholeheartedly in agreement with you, we have only one life to live, and we have to find time for happiness in it.
I hope you are managing to find some joy in Homiel, or that at least things are working out in the best possible way for you, Masha.
It’s a great pity that our letters aren’t getting through to you, but I hope they’ll start.
Dear Masha, from today I’m going to start sending you letters less often; I know they don’t get passed on to you so I don’t feel like writing so much… Even so, I hold you in my mind and am always thinking how you are. I reckon that most people in this country and all of those who are now abroad are waiting for just one thing: for the political prisoners to be set free and for everyone to feel able to return home and live in a free country, to breathe freely and calmly, and not worry about the violence that we now see everywhere. I live in the hope that this will one day happen.
Today I looked once more over a brief extract from an interview you gave on the radio—I think it was your first. You spoke so well and so sincerely! It’s really painful for me to look at videos and photographs from 2020. I so much want these bad times to pass as soon as possible for you and for all of us.
Masha, I wish you strength and health. I hope that you can keep your spirits up, and that you will be freed very soon. I know that you lighten everyone’s mood by the very fact of your existence.
I hug you tightly, A.
Dear Masha, I’m thinking of all the time that’s passed since you were transferred in January. It’s not only the fact of your transfer that really upset me, but that you’ve been taken to another city. I cried when I got the letter you sent me just before you were sent off to the labour camp. It was as if things had suddenly become empty here. And now I have to face an utter void as well as everything else. They interfere with our correspondence, they make sure our letters never reach their destination; they torment people specially, as if that makes somebody’s life better. The only question is – whose? I don’t understand anyone who can live their life without doing anything kind or sensible, who devotes the only life they’ll ever have to doing things that are bad. It’s terrible, it really is, to live your life without love, not only not loving other people, but also not loving yourself, transforming your life into idleness. You can only have sympathy for them. Although, when you think about it, it may be that they are simply made that way and they don’t realise what they’re doing.
After you had been transferred to a labour camp, you still managed to get a message out to the media about how to survive the imprisonment of relatives and all the political prisoners. At the time I cried again:) In Istanbul airport! While waiting for a flight to Minsk. For the same reason. I was sitting there waiting in the food court on the first floor. There’s a long table up there on the balcony with plugs for all your electronic gear. It was there that I was listening to music and crying. I hope no one saw me! And I’m crying now. Not long ago I was talking with a friend about what the world has become after 24 February this year and how people no longer know about the kind of trauma and fear Belarus has been living in since the autumn of 2020. And about how this trauma was made insignificant after February 2022 by comparison with what had begun in our neighbouring country. In actual fact, of course, the trauma of our situation has not disappeared. And we have to live with it.
I recently read something about the conditions you have to put up with in the camp, although I already knew all about it of course. I can only wish you strength to live with it all.
I’m finishing off the letter on the following day. Good Lord, it’s turned out really sad, although I of course wanted to write something cheerful. The weather’s really fine today. There’s a clear, blue sky, I hope you can see it. I want so much to hold you, Masha. May you and all the others be set free as soon possible. I’m eagerly waiting for the day.
Dear Masha, I want so much to know how you are, but I’ve had no news from you for six months. All the same I hope against all hope that we will see each other soon. Really, really soon If only they would let you and all the others out quickly.
I’m going to stick a rare stamp on the envelope—it’s got a European roller on it. Maybe they’ll pass you my letter because of it. Pretty please! Rollers were once common birds in Belarus, they were beautiful, like birds that live in the tropics, but now they’ve almost disappeared.
It’s been rainy today, there’s a fine drizzle falling now. I’m already home again after a walk. I went to Kurapaty with some friends, it’s not far from where we live. We didn’t intend to go there, but somehow our legs took us in that direction.
When you’re there you can’t help thinking that this is a place where people were shot, lots of them, and now they’re lying God only knows where. Thinking about how they were brought here to their death, singly or in groups. But it’s all quiet now. Except that there’s something taut inside you, like a violin string. Because it’s not over yet.
We took a trolleybus back. All you want to do in this weather is sleep, I feel like all my strength has drained away, but I can also feel that it won’t last. I’m having a lie down, listening to the rain on the window and writing you a letter on my phone:) Then somebody’s going to bring food round, my girl friends and I ordered something to eat with home delivery, and after that I’ll busy myself around the flat and do some clothes ironing.
There’s so much trouble brewing in the world right now (in addition to what we have, there’s tension again between Serbia and Kosovo, as if there wasn’t enough already… and China’s circling around Taiwan) that I want to create a peaceful space around myself to charge my batteries.
I can’t wait to see you again. I feel that once you’re let out, everything will be fine again
 This is the Belarus Independence Day for the ruling Lukashenka regime, the day in 1944 on which the Red Army took Minsk from the Germans. The independence day celebrated by bationally aware Belarusians is 25 March,the day in 1918 on which a Belarusian National Republic was declared.
 Woodlands on the outskirts of Minsk; it is the site of mass shootings by the Soviet secret police (the NKVD) during the period 1937-1941. The current regime in Belarus refuses to acknowledge it or permit a memorial to be erected there.