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Volodya is stuck on the platform while ‘the train called life’ rolls by him

Now I understand what I want for myself: not courage
(why would I need it? - I'm a woman) or energy (as
there are special demands from those who are strong), I want nothing at all, except resistance. When you are going through a terrible time, which
tears your world apart, there is a secret
relief: well, the worst thing has already happened,
and it can't get any worse. Well, it can, it can, it can… Nobody
will let you catch your breath, wipe the ice-cold sweat from your forehead,
no one will promise: "It's over, it's over"…


On 3 May, 2013, from 8 a.m. we are inside the colony. At 8.30 a.m., a female officer, "responsible for meetings", came, collected all applications for long term visits, the documents which prove a family relationship and a notice from a physician.


We are still waiting. By 11.00 a.m., they should take us to the colony. There are 10 families waiting: mothers, sisters, wives and children. An old woman is sitting, she has pale, tired eyes ... Suddenly, she starts to cry and wail: "Why didn't God take me? Why should I come here in my old age? Didn't I tell him?..." I felt quite uncomfortable.


I felt for this old woman, she was approx. 70 years old, she was tired, with a completely colourless face, dull eyes ... Others are silent ... Everyone thinks about their own issues... Later, people started talking, some have been visiting the colony for the last 5 or6 years - isn't it awful? Children cry. There were four children aged between 11 months to 7 years.


Finally, after 11.00 a.m., a female prison officer reappeared again; she was the one who met us at the checkpoint, where we were required to pass over sharp instruments as well as other prohibited items, they were checking documents, they took our cell phones from us. We are going further, through the checkpoint again, we sign a register, and then pass through another 3 gates.


We are standing, waiting between cells, in the distance there are three convicts standing, they look quite young, and are looking at us, at their family members (80% of the prisoners are never visited by anyone), then from a nearby building a female lieutenant (sort of) peeps out, the butch kind, capable of stopping a galloping elephant, and she said to another officer, "Take these people away, they are presenting like three tree stumps...".


I do not know how, but the inmates somehow became aware of what was said about them, and they just disappeared within a moment. It was clear that the convicts are extremely afraid of the administration, which may very well, punish them harshly. We passed through the gate, surrounded by barbed wire, a cage with dogs - and we are now in front of the rooms designated for long term visitors.


The controller's room, where we hand over our jewellery, medicines, records. Next is the room where they check the contents of bags - food, then - the room for body searches. They carry out the inspection thoroughly, warning 100 times that if they find anything illegal, they will produce an administrative protocol and will not allow the visit. 


All this goes on for two hours. Each one of us has 3-4 bags. The room numbers were announced... And then I laughed for the first time - again, room number 2, as last time. It means that the room must be crammed with eavesdropping devices and voyeuristic video surveillance tools.


I went into the room - it's perishingly cold inside. The heating was turned off as early as 15 April, and in the morning it's 0 degrees. I put the kettle on and I start looking for the hidden eavesdropping and surveillance devices... just out of interest, and in order to keep warm. For some reason, they are not bringing our loved ones ... Another hour passes before they are brought. They were wearing summer uniforms, although it was only 7 degrees outside and a penetrating wind was blowing.


Immediately upon entering the room, Volodya starts laughing and says: "Room No. 2 again, now I understand what they are up to". I cannot get used to his thin face, it seems as though  he has aged and fallen ill. I froze completely. I had a runny nose ... We sat down to have dinner - fried chicken and tea. We were talking, the sun set, you could hear the wind howl. For some reason, a thought immediately came to mind: one could not envisage a grimmer place for a colony than this one.


Since it is very cold, we climb into bed, hiding under the blanket, we strongly embrace as our teeth chatter uncontrollably. We decide to put on our socks and sweaters. For some reason, we were lying and reminiscing about the life we used to have back then: our previous life. Starting from a typical question: "Do you remember..."


We remembered how Volodya took me on my first trip abroad to Austria, it was a long time ago, approximately 7-8 years ago. And we recalled how, in July, in the hottest month of the year, for some reason I wished to see snow, and he took me to the Big Almaty Lake, where we threw snowballs... We were remembering different things for a long time and did not even notice that evening had come and another inspection was announced.


They all hustle and bustle in the kitchen, trying to cook and take advantage of warmth from the stoves. We've all  gone to the kitchen not only to cook but also to warm up a little. The bathroom - that's a different story altogether. In winter it was always cold in the toilet, but now it feels like a freezer; Icy water that makes your teeth freeze over and ache; soap that refuses to foam.


Volodya says that they've already become accustomed to this. They are now able to wash in this water; they wash their feet in it every day, they wash their socks in it, too. The water leaves your hands numb and aching with cold. How can they wash their feet in it? To me it seems like a lethal activity.    


Having drank yet another litre of hot tea, we bury ourselves under the blanket again. I ask Volodya what the others are doing time for. Are there any statistics? He is an exception of course - an innocent man who has to endure the hardships of this cruel regime designed to stifle the criminal intentions of those who once committed ghastly crimes. But what is there to stifle in him?


There are rapists, conmen and thieves here. Many were thrown in here for inflicting severe bodily harm that led to the death of another: They drank some, fought some, then slept and in the morning they were taken. A lot of junkies are here too. And among them - a single "threat to the inherent order of the Father of the Nation"


We couldn't sleep whole night- we froze, ran to the toilet, froze again... sometime around 6 in the morning on Saturday we'd had it; so we decided to get up and drink some hot tea. I hadn't had so much tea in a very long time. I was unable to swallow anything, my throat was sore. It was sheer horror - my nose was running, I was tormented by coughing fits. Volodya tried to treat me...


A long forgotten feeling of being taken care of, when you can just be ill, just stay in bed. Volodya  squeezed some lemon, poured hot tea, giving me a sip and rubbing my feet to warm them, tucking me in... In the morning we started to cook some meat for beshbarmak ... We need hot sorpa  urgently ... :) But suddenly the lights go off... So we can't stay warm in the kitchen anymore, nor can we cook - all the stoves and kettles are electrical. My meat hadn't even managed to develop a crust.


In the kitchen I heard some family members talking about some of the inmates being beaten up, others being terrorised with constant bullying and shouting. I ran to the other room and start questioning Volodya: "Do they exert such methods on you?" Volodya retorts that he would not remain silent should they do such things to him.


Yes, there are some commands uttered through gritted teeth: Run, faster, and so on. But they are for all inmates. Yes, such commands unnerve him, make him want to resist. Yes, he is sick of this regime, where every new day is a spitting image of the previous one, down to the very minute. And no one knows how much longer this will take.


Obviously, it wears an innocent man down. And if an inmate fails to get it the first time, a loathsome voice is all too willing to hammer it in to his skull again and again: Faster, run, one more time... And the whole day it continues. Apart from that, Volodya is surrounded by a mob of activists and other inmates hung up on his every word who then rush to secret services and rat on him.


Volodya sleeps on the upper bunk even though there are plenty of unoccupied lower bunks in the unit. But an order has been given not to let him sleep on the lower bunk -a camera is trained on him whilst he sleeps in an upper bunk. How utterly malicious!!!    


I keep on relaying news from the other side - someone was born, someone was baptised, someone is building a new organisation, someone is looking for a job, life goes on... And Volodya just sits here, he is stuck here standing, stuck here lying down, like he is stuck on the platform while 'the train called life' rolls him by. This is how he described his  situation.    


We cursed all the apparatchiks and all the other scumbags that trip over themselves to carry out the orders of the presidential administration. We remembered the Aktau detention unit, where he was held in a damp, airless cell in 40-degree heat. Memories of solitary confinement came to him too: The cold (late November), the paneless window, the pissed-stained mattress and the tin can for a toilet...


However, as we later learned, in the Stolypin car, some other people were even less lucky during their solitary confinement. He travelled to the Atrau detention centre with people from Aktau who had been beaten up, had their eyes blackened - courtesy of the solitary confinement unit.


They attacked them, poured icy water over them, and had them standing up all night. And before they put them on prisoner transport, they had them write out statements to the effect that they had tripped and fallen, from which all the bruising and hemorrhages resulted... An ugly system spawns ugly, ugly individuals who implement such measures.


I think that this colony is no exception, and should there come an order from up above, some very nasty consequences could occur. And we both understand that. Volodya is trying to reassure me but how can I feel reassured? I can see the sorrow in his eyes, I can hear him and feel everything that's going on in his soul. It pains me...


Volodya made me the most delicious breakfast this morning: An omelet with sausages... Again, I get the long-forgotten feeling of a happy family morning... And it feels sad somehow; Because our customs are history now.
The lights came and went and my sorpa took terribly long to cook. At about 3 in the afternoon we were able to have some hot soup and meat, like we did at home...


It hurt me to look at Volodya, while he ate and reminisced: "Like home" and "do you remember when...". We were trying to create a cosy, homely atmosphere around us. And sometimes we just sat there in silence, embracing. Like true Kazakhs, we drank litres of tea, soaking up all the delicious morsels of food which I had brought.


We got to talking about life, how we would surely have a happy family, kids, and how all this nightmare would go away - we just needed to be strong through the rough times and all would come to us.


4 to 5 times every day we all had inspections. We had a visit from the deputy and I told him about these inhumane conditions - about the cold.   
Time flies… it seemed like we had just arrived but in fact two full days had gone. The Leaden sky outside presented sullen against the bars. The wind howled sorrowfully. If only we could change something in our lives...


I ask Volodya: "What if you were given the chance to change something in your life? Purely hypothetically...". He paused contemplatively for a while and then said: "You can't just change a solitary thing - that's it. Because your whole life would change. And if that meant that I would have never met you?! A thousand times no!, I wouldn't change a single thing."
Me: "But you are stuck here. The price you are paying... Wouldn't you forsake our love in return for your freedom?!!!!!"
Volodya (already angry): "No! Enough! Don't talk about it."
Can anyone call this fair? Is there justice at all, anyway? SOME PEOPLE HAVE THEIR ARMS UP TO THEIR ELBOWS IN BLOOD - and they go along merrily, while innocent souls spend their lives in custody...


I put on his warm jacket and I kept it on for 2 days, leaving my scent, leaving an essence of myself as a gift to him for a few more days.... I know that after the meeting, he will go through euphoria, joy, memories of those 3 days, followed by a sudden and sobering declination of mood. It's slightly different for me - I just get depressed, then I slowly come to my senses.


On the morning of the 6 May, there is a certain nervousness in the air, as we understand that this is it ... We long for it to be our last meeting in prison, and that he will soon be released. But what if he isn't? The next meeting will be in almost 90 days..... for his birthday. No, I do not want any more of this...


We are eating breakfast and frenziedly discussing everyday moments, I'm trying to remember, what things I should send him in a parcel, a package etc. It is not permitted to take out any notes from the rooms for long visits, so I have to remember everything.... Morning check, everyone is agitated, we are counting the minutes... I've lost my appetite. It seems that the temperature has plummeted.


After 10.00 a.m. inspectors arrive. We hear: "Convicted - go out!". In the corridor we can hear some rushing around, it's noisy, children cry. They are leaving, and for the last time each of us exchange hugs, kisses, and they go away.... We stay ... "The experienced ones' advise the relatives to subdue their tears... And, as if it were an act of conscious disobedience  - streams of tears started pouring from our eyes ...


Volodya looks around, waving his arms, I can see the back of his bald head, and it appears that they are all identical, my eyes are filled with tears ... In the hallway people wail unostentatiously, so as to avoid frightening the children.
A voice blurts out: "Prepare the rooms for inspection!" The female officer is checking the rooms, and then everyone is subjected to a thorough inspection. They are checking our clothes, bags... What can possibly be smuggled out of this almshouse??


Next we all stand on the concourse as if waiting for something. Then we pass through the next gates and another checkpoint. We see the butch female again, and we, along with our belongings,  go through  kind of superfluous personal inspection. All the relatives are leaving hastily...


My turn comes - she carefully re-checks my entire bag. She conducts the body search in the very same place, it seems as though the only place she did not look was inside my underwear. I was surprised. Why was she so "shy" and neglect to look?.... All the relatives are astonished; they keep asking me what I did wrong to those people.


I answer: it seems I threatened the constitutional order of the country... I see confusion on their faces. I say: it was a joke, I don't know.
It was unnerving to see the dumb and caddish face of the person who was so diligently fulfilling her orders. And where is the "equality for all before the law"? and why was no one else searched? Just me! I wanted to raise the roof and tell them to go to hell, to refuse the inspection, but I had a flight to catch in 2 hours...


Miserable creatures, resembling human beings just by external appearance, inside they are mere puppets, brainless amoebas. In fact, all was plainly written on her face -she was blighted by depravity. Once again, we are reminded that members of our family are being held under special control; that the higher authorities have spoken.


We advance further, there's another checkpoint… another inspection. We are finally given back our ID cards. Another fence - and we are free again. There isn't  a wall in the world, no matter how strong its stones may be, which  is resistant to the will and thought of a man.


I went out. My friends gave me some bad news. My mood became even worse. Still, regardless of what people might say, Volodya's imprisonment is my personal affliction, it's an indescribable feeling of loss, and it may be felt only by the persons who were there with me, who were close to me, and the rest just felt compassion for me and continued ahead... well, this is life, the rules of life. Yes, they do help, yes, do change something, but... But that's another story.


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