Interview by Eva Merkacheva, MK.ru
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
Ukrainian pilot speaks about her life behind bars.
A few days ago, Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda [Nadiya in Ukrainian] Savchenko was rather unexpectedly sent for treatment to a civilian hospital, and then, equally suddenly, back to the SIZO [pre-trial detention facility]. The journey along the route Matrosskaya Tishina–Hospital N20–Matrosskaya Tishina took just over two days. That was obviously not enough time for treatment, but in that case, what was the fuss about in the first place? How is she feeling today?
Ward cell N 726 in the special block of the legendary Matrosskaya Tishina. Savchenko is here alone, as usual. She sits on an iron bed, wearing a jacket (the cell is chilly). Her legs are purple – because of an allergy, which has only gotten worse.
“I am fine. I am totally fine,” Nadiya says.
Then why were you transferred to a hospital?
“My analysis results were not very good. And Doctor Hlinka, who visits me, strongly recommended I get some treatment. So I gave my consent. But I thought I would be taken to a hospital.”
That was where you were taken, wasn’t it?
“I have never been hospitalized before, but I visited family and friends in hospitals. So I know what they are like. Everything is white, large windows, and you can see trees outside–while I was put a cell, much worse than the one in the “Matrosska.” A tiny narrow window by the ceiling (you can’t even reach it, let alone look through it). A black door. Not even a bathroom. I am guessing that the people [whom] they usually put here can’t get up to use the bathroom anymore, and have a bedpan brought to them. No television, either, nothing. Just bare walls and ceilings, bars and guards. A coffin cell for bed-bound patients. This is a place where one comes to die, and I don’t intend to, not yet.
“In the evening, after lights-out, spots of light [from the outside] filter through the tiny window onto the black door, and form a giant white cross. Can you imagine? I was just laughing hysterically. After treatment in this hospital, you can just send people to the nuthouse in the Butyrka. It is an unbearable hell.”
But were you given any medical aid there?
“At first they put me into the ICU, for some reason (even though I am not near death, so why was I taking up a bed in there?). I was lying there, chained down with handcuffs. In the same ward with me was a grandpa [old man] prisoner, who was near death, but they kept him in handcuffs and under guard, as if he were about to get up and run away.”
“Those are the rules.”
“I understand. But then, from the ICU, they took me to diagnostics, for some reason. I walked down the corridor in handcuffs, with a convoy – all the patients were horrified. The entire hospital was watching that scene. The analysis results were not too bad. They change depending on whether I ate or not, after all. Back at the SIZO, before being transferred to the hospital, I ate some baked cottage cheese. I also ate at the hospital (but threw it up). So my analysis results looked normal.
“I spent 24 hours in the cell and asked to be taken back to the Matrosskaya Tishina. I wrote a statement saying I refuse treatment. A board of doctors got together and decided that my condition was not critical, and I can be returned to the SIZO. I’m glad they took me back. I don’t need treatment. When I am unconscious, dying, and unable to fight back – then they can treat me. But right now, I don’t want it. Especially in a place like that.
“But at least I got a tour, looked at Moscow and at the people…” (laughs) “Through the paddy wagon window and while they walked me through the hospital grounds.”
So what about your hunger strike? You are stopping it, then starting it again…
“Since this subject became a bargaining chip of sorts, let me just say this. I simply have no appetite. Food refuses to go down a prisoner’s throat. So when things are getting very bad, I am trying to shove something into myself, and when things are alright, I drink water and tea. Today, I ate an apple. I am sure that they will not let me die here, but I don’t want things to get to the point of being force-fed.”
You had complained that letters addressed to you were not reaching you. Did that problem get resolved?
“No. Of the hundred letters sent to me every week, I get maybe ten. The rest either fail to pass the censorship (allegedly, because they are about politics) or get “lost” in the Investigative Committee. I was told that the translator there can’t translate them fast enough, from Ukrainian into Russian (and many write to me in Ukrainian).”
You are cold all the time, perhaps also because of malnutrition. Have you considered doing sports or yoga? I could bring you some books on yoga.
“No, I don’t need any. Yoga is a spiritual thing, it’s not something I can do here. I’m trying to do push-ups every day. I can’t read any books anymore. I’ve read too much. I asked them for magazines. I’m trying to fill my days with drawing and origami.”
Is it going well? Could you show me?
“Here are some kitties.” (shows a few pictures) “I wanted to send them to the Cat Day exhibition in the Hermitage. But I’m probably too late for that. I love animals, and I love cutting things out of paper. The trial is soon…”
Are you preparing for it?
“No, what’s the point? But I want to be present there. It’s interesting, really, like watching a science fiction film. What new things are they going to come up with?”
Comment by Anna Karetnikova, human rights activist:
“In reality, there is only one prisoner in the Matrosskaya Tishina whose rights are observed 100%. That is Nadezhda [Nadiya] Savchenko. She has no complaints [about the conditions]. In fact, she is helping other prisoners. Thanks to her, we managed to raise money to buy tap valves (that are required for normal operation of taps in sinks). We bought 150-200 of them in total, and delivered them to different SIZOs. She [Nadiya Savchenko] is going to transfer all the money that people are sending to her account, to ill children and prisoners.”