Freedom Is A Whole Day Outside

January 2, 2014
Photo by Ekaterina Fomina

On Wednesday, the State Duma adopted a resolution on amnesty. On Thursday, four participants in the “Bolotnaya Case” were released from criminal prosecution and from custody in the courtroom.

The door of the iron cage swings open. Half a year later Leonid Kovyazin and Vladimir Akimenkov are free. A much hated electronic bracelet is removed from Kolya Kavkazsky’s ankle. It has monitored all his movements since the pretrial detention had been replaced with house arrest. Maria Baronova is no longer under house arrest. Those who are still on trial are smiling, shaking hands, hugging each other. The bailiffs for the first time do not snarl and act friendly. Only those defendants will be kept behind bars who are accused of using violence against law enforcement officers.

Relatives are so exhausted by the trial, the lines, the expectation, that it seems like they take everything too quietly. Jubilation is not appropriate: some are being released, for others the torture with time continues. Those who have been released by judge Natalia Nikishyna are not in a hurry to go home. They leave the dock to join the audience. They listen to witnesses, on whose words their fate no longer depends. Over the year and a half these people, most of whom before that day on Bolotnaya were total strangers, became to mean a lot for each other. You can’t just get up and leave.

After the trial, off to the TV Rain Channel. They are ready for a live broadcast. Kolya is preoccupied with his phone. Now that all the bans have been lifted, he can tweet again. Volodya finally has a chance to talk to those who wrote him letters. Leonid hugs Zhenya hard to never let her go again. They got officially married in jail. “Tomorrow I will think that all this was a dream. But please don’t disappear!” she begs.

Vladimir Akimenkov, who spent 556 days behind bars:

I have no idea what to do on my first day as a free man. I’ll just go get my passport back from the jail. I’ve accumulated a thousand letters, more than fifty books. I will keep them carefully. I did not know I would be released today, so I left everything in the cell.

I want to arrange a walk, to get together with my old and new friends. But I’m just afraid they might take it as an unauthorized rally. I have no more time for ridiculous trials.

Yes, it is difficult without human interaction. It’s also hard without the net. Now it’s time to start writing on the Internet. Although it eats up so much time. I have a lot of friends, but real friends are not there. There are three persons I can call friends. In jail. We developed friendly relations, but there was not enough time for real friendship…

The worst is isolation. Oppressive walls, windows are equipped with extra iron bars, behind which you can’t even see the outside, you don’t even know where you are. You don’t hear sounds of the trees, you don’t see the sun, the moon. I spent seven months in different cells with no TV, sometimes even radio was not available. Letters were the only support and source of information. But sometimes they were delivered messed up by censors. It was depressing, and the guards treated us as if were not human.

I think, this year and a half did me some good. I got better, I got stronger, more collected, more focused. My views became more leftist. I trusted my comrades, and all these ordeals only confirmed their loyalty. So many people invested their souls in helping us. But it is very sad that only forty or fifty are willing to devote their time to going to courts, to protest rallies… That protest activity is quite low.

The problem of our society is disbelief in its strength. As in a Soviet joke: people staged a demonstration, each with a placard that says: “What to say, if one person cannot change anything.”

In jail you don’t know what will happen in the next minute. They can wake you up without explaining the reason. If they say “lightly dressed”, without outerwear, that probably means that you are taken to see the investigator, or an attorney, or for a medical checkup. “Akimenkov, ready in five minutes”. You can wait an hour, or they can take you out immediately. If they say “dressed in season,” that means they’re taking you to the court.

Prison teaches you to carefully think before you say something. On the other hand, I didn’t feel comfortable with the criminal subculture, it is difficult to speak that prison slang, even in small talk. There are certain rules, that can be different in different cells. I shared the cell with a “tramp,” who spent thirty of his fifty years behind bars. In the criminal hierarchy it is second only to a “made thief.” He was serving for “infliction of serious bodily injury resulting in death.” I shared cells with all kinds of people. And you cannot show weakness by asking to transfer you to a different cell – it lowers your status.

Well, I could even write a book about all this. Maybe I’ll even suggest to the guys to put together a collection of stories. There I didn’t keep diaries, because they could be taken away. I had so much going through my mind, thinking all the time.

Before the arrest, we did not know each other. I met so many wonderful people. I will keep on coming to court to support them.

bolotnaya prisoners released


Nikolai Kavkazsky, who spent 372 days in jail, 139 days under house arrest:

I was about 50 percent sure there would be amnesty. They could easily come up with some legal tricks to make sure it doesn’t apply to our case.

When did I feel for the first time that I was free? For the time in the last year and a half I was able use Twitter! Of course, you know, in a state where every day they enact a law banning promotion of something, you cannot feel completely free. At any time they can lock you up again. It’s a relief that I won’t serve time at least in this case.

We got out to press for the release of the rest by all possible means.

I won’t feel any difference when I get home tonight, I was under house arrest once before. More importantly is that I don’t have to stay home. It’s great to walk in the street – something I couldn’t do for a long time. Now I will spend as much time as I can just walking outside. First thing is to lose some weight walking for at least three hours every day (in jail Nikolai’s liver condition aggravated. – EF). Now I’m detained again, this time by journalists. But I sure do not mind!

On Tuesday I will go to a meeting of the “Committee for Civil Rights” for the first time since my release. I haven’t been fired, I will continue working as a lawyer. I called my mother from the court, I used my attorney’s phone.

Today I am outside all day – for me this is the most important thing to feel I am free.