The Network Trial in Petersburg: Closing Statements by Defendants

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Network Trial defendant Viktor Filinkov tells a joke: “A programmer, a businessman, and an industrial climber planned to overthrow the government.”

The Penza Case in Petersburg: Closing Statements
Mediazona
June 18, 2020

The trial of the “Network terrorist community,” whose alleged members have been charged with violating Article 205.4.2 of the Criminal Code, is winding down in Petersburg. The Second Western Military District Court has heard the case made by the prosecution, who asked the court to sentence Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov to nine and six years in prison, respectively. The court has also heard the cases made by the defense teams for both defendants. Today, Filinkov and Boyarshinov made their closing statements.

10:48 a.m.
At the previous hearing, on June 17, the prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments. Prosecutor Alexander Vasilenko asked the court to sentence Filinkov to nine years in a medium security penal colony, and Boyarshinov to six years.

The defense team of Boyarshinov, who pleaded guilty, asked the court to make note of their client’s “inactive” role in the events described by the prosecution and sentence him to no more than four years and five months in prison and not impose a fine on him.

ter1-boyar lawyersA scene from the courtroom in Petersburg: Yuli Boyarshinov’s lawyers are in the foreground.

In line with their defendant, Filinkov’s defense team insisted that his guilt had not been proven by investigators, and the documents that formed the basis of the indictment against him had been falsified by FSB officers. Defense lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov reminded the court of the circumstances of the arrest of Filinkov, who spoke in detail about being tortured [by FSB officers].

11:20 a.m.
The three-judge panel [troika], led by Roman Muranov, enters the courtroom.

The court allows Filinkov to make a closing argument.

“I apologize in advance to everyone involved in the trial: I will be repeating the arguments of my defense lawyers,” he says.

Filinkov intends to “go through the indictment.” He begins by saying that none of the witnesses identified him as [the alleged Network’s] “signalman.”

“I assume this is yet another fantasy on the part of [Petersburg FSB investigator Gennady] Belyaev or [Petersburg FSB field officer Konstantin] Bondarev [who arrested and tortured Filinkov]. How I am supposed to defend myself from this?” Filinkov asks.

He says that he had not seen some of the documents in the case file before. He is probably referring to the documents identified as “The Network Code” and “Congress 2017.”

“Whom did I provide with means of communication? None of the witnesses said anything about it, and only the defense questioned the witnesses about it,” Filinkov says emotionally.

11:24 a.m.
“I didn’t vet anyone, I didn’t select anyone, I didn’t recruit anyone,” says Filinkov in response to the next charge in the indictment: that he had selected people for the “terrorist community.”

Filinkov quotes the indictment: “Filinkov, Boyarshinov, Pchelintsev, and Shishkin were directly involved in joint training sessions.” Filinkov says that Shishkov was not involved in the training sessions, and Boyarshinov participated in only two events. And in any case, they studied first aid, not capturing other people or storming buildings or shooting firearms.

11:31 a.m.
“‘Clandestine Security’—page 3 of the indictment. What did this ‘elaborate system of security’ consist of? Three methods are mentioned in the seventeen volumes of the criminal case file: aliases, PGP encryption, and Jabber,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov lists the aliases and says they were not means of conspiracy.

“‘Redhead’ [Penza Network defendant Maxim Ivankin]: I saw him, and he’s a redhead—that’s very conspiratorial. ‘Twin’: as far as know, he has a twin brother,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov moves on to PGP encryption. He explains that, in practice, the two or three keys used for such emails consist of a few “very, very large” numbers that cannot be memorized, so they are stored on the computer. Filinkov also notes that the message’s subject, sender and recipient are not encrypted—only the text of the message is encrypted.

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Viktor Filinkov gives a short primer on how email works—before the head judge cuts him off.

11:35 a.m.
Judge Muranov interrupts Filinkov.

“We don’t need a lecture about encryption programs,” he says.

The defendant tries to reply.

“The prosecutor doesn’t understand how it works—”

Another judge intervenes.

“Then you get together with him and explain it,” says the judge.

Filinkov continues.

“It provides privacy, but it doesn’t provide secrecy,” he says, now in reference to the Jabber protocol for messengers.

11:41 a.m.
“It’s built on fantasies—that’s exactly how the ‘Network terrorist community’ was created,” Filinkov continues. “And it was badly built to boot. There are incorrect dates [in the case file], and [Penza FSB investigator Vyacheslav] Shepelyov [tampered] with the [text] files.”

Filinkov recalls how he, Igor Shishkin, and Ilya Kapustin were tortured, and mentions the verdict and sentence in the Penza trial.

“I don’t understand the prosecutor’s position. I expected him to drop the charges,” Filinkov says. “He won’t look at me. I can’t expect a response from him, can I?”

11:42 a.m.
“Think a little before you speak,” Judge Muranov tells Filinkov.

“Choose your words carefully,” adds another judge.

“I don’t consider myself guilty, and I ask you to acquit me,” Filinkov concludes.

11:44 a.m.
Boyarshinov’s closing statement:

“I’ve been in jail for two and a half years now. I can’t say that this prison experience has been totally negative. Isolation has taught me to love people and freedom even more, to appreciate even more my loved ones, who have supported me all this time. So, I want to use my closing statement to thank the people who have supported me: my parents, my spouse, and all my close friends.

“I would like to underscore once more that I have never held terrorist views, neither t hen nor now. I am sorry for what I did, and I’m glad that my activities caused no actual harm to other people. I ask the court not to punish me harshly. That is all.”ter4-boyar-closingDefendant Yuli Boyarshinov’s closing statement was so short that artist Anna Tereshkina didn’t have time to finish her sketch.

11:49 a.m.
Filinkov’s closing statement:

“The nine years in prison the prosecutor has requested are probably a token of respect for what I’ve been doing. This is what occurred to me about [Yegor] Zorin’s testimony: five narcotic substances were found in his blood when he was examined, but only two narcotic substances were found on his person—MDMA and marijuana. Neither MDMA or marijuana was found in his blood, however, while the five substances that were found were other synthetic drugs. Due to my circumstances, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to drug lords, and they have told me that synthetic drugs are quickly flushed from the bloodstream, and if [Zorin] had used marijuana, it would have remained in his blood. I would guess that the FSB officers knew that Zorin was a drug user, so they planted MDMA and marijuana on his person, thinking they were popular drugs. But they guessed wrong: he was using neither the one nor the other. It’s hard to believe that he drove around for a year [with these drugs on his person] and didn’t use them, while using everything else in sight. In a situation like that, you have to have courage to turn yourself in.

“As for the other [suspects and defendants in the case] who confessed and testified—Yuli [Boyarshinov] and Igor [Shiskin]—they acted pragmatically. They didn’t believe that any other outcome was possible. I understand them.

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“I would like to mention everyone who has been exposed in this case. First of all were the Petersburg FSB, the Penza FSB, and the Interior Ministry [the regular police], which carried out the orders of FSB officers without hesitation, without asking any questions. Then there was the prosecutor’s office, which has only been good for giving me the runaround and bringing in a colonel [as trial prosecutor] to read aloud from a piece of paper, refuse to respond to me, and ask the court to sentence me to nine years. I don’t understand whether [the prosecutor’s office] is independent or not. What happened to the ten years I was promised? The FSB officers promised to send me down for ten years. It is unclear whose initiative this is [to sentence Filinkov to nine years]. Is the prosecutor’s office or the FSB behind it? It basically doesn’t matter.

“Then there was the Investigative Committee, whose employees sent [Filinkov’s complaints of torture] from one place to the next, losing all the evidence in the process. There were the employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service, who refused to document the injuries [suffered by Filinkov and other defendants when they were tortured by the FSB], who promised that video recordings would not be lost, but then it turned out they had been deleted. There were the courts that remanded us in custody and extended our arrests. There were the legislators who made up such laws. All of them have disgraced themselves. I don’t know what the solution to this situation is. That is all.”

11:50 a.m.
The verdict in the case will be announced at 12:00 p.m. on June 22.

ter6-kulak cherkasViktor Filinkov’s defense team: Yevgenia Kulakov and Vitaly Cherkasov

12:04 p.m.
After the hearing, Filinkov’s defense team, Vitaly Cherkasov and Yevgenia Kulakova, said that, during the closing arguments, the prosecutor cited documents that had not even been read out in court, which is forbidden by the criminal procedure code, and attributed statements to Filinkov that he had never made.

All illustrations by Anna Tereshkina, who writes, “Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov made their closing statements today, and before that Viktor took part in the closing arguments. His eloquent speech, which disarmed all the scoundrels, made an incredible impression. Everyone whom he listed really has disgraced themselves, and they stand before all of us dirty, confused, and unable to do anything about it.” Thanks for Ms. Tereshkina’s kind permission to reprint her drawings here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Anna Tereshkina: At the Court Hearing

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Anna Tereshkina
Facebook
June 19, 2018

*This text is not an objective reflection of the “hearing.” Rather, I see its value as therapeutic in the light of what happened today.

This was my second time at a remand extension hearing for Viktor Filinkov.

There were more people, and their voices were louder. But I still left feeling as if I had been hit with a shovel, which was no surprise.

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This time round, the court bailiffs immediately herded everyone down to the first floor, but they were unable to drive anyone completely out of the courthouse.

People stood near the stairway.

Our way down the long corridor was blocked by three beefy bailiffs, who were the centerpiece of a genuine commedia dell’arte.

At first, they used a bench to block the way into the corridor. Folks sat down on the bench. Then they decided to remove the bench. One young woman, however, refused to get up, and the three muscleheads threatened to drag her forcibly from the bench. They left the bench where it was, but turned it around. I managed to squeeze through and sit down on it.

Folks were pushing from one side, as during rush hour in the subway, while on the other side an amphitheater opened up. Knights in bulletproof vests outfitted with tons of pockets stood in this amphitheater. They were nearly motionless, like the best sitters during life drawing classes at the Academy of Arts.

I tried to make a stupid joke that snuggling up against young women like that, not letting them walk down the corridor, was the only joy in their dull jobs. A tall, thin bailiff (I had sketched him at the previous hearing) kept running back and forth, trying to cuddle up to T., pushing his more broad-shouldered colleague away from her.

The broad-shouldered bailiff, who bore a resemblance to Ramzan Kadyrov, smiled reservedly when I joked, while the other bailiff (I memorized his name: Anton) went so far as to say it was not their choice to wear the bulletproof vests, but they were under orders to wear them. He kept pulling at the neck of his t-shirt, as if he wanted to tear off his entie sweaty get-up.

But my jokes and attempts to see something human about them collapsed when all of them went after reporter David Frenkel, elbowing their way through the crowd. We tried to squeeze past them, but they had the right to employ violence. I sensed the tension in their elbows. But if someone like me had tensed their elbows like that, they would have been charged with “disobeying” officers of the law. It was scary.

Amid the stuffiness of the corridor, a ball consisting of the swearing gorillas and skinny David rolled down the stairway. (It transpired later the brave young men broke David’s glasses.)

The crowd seethed with despair and resentment.

“Look at yourselves! How you behave! You are violating the right of citizens to exercise their right to . . . ,” a female court clerk in a blue dress kept repeating at us.

tereshkina-1“I have every grounds!”

The bits of bureaucratese clawed at each other. Words stumbled and snapped, turning into feckless curses.

“What grounds do you have for kicking us out?”

“I have every grounds!”

“Who the heck are you?”

“I’m the locum!”

“Whose locum? What’s your name?”

“I’ve already told you everything!”

This had all happened somewhere before, either in a story by Kafka or during my schooldays.

Ultimately, I really resent the fact I cannot draw Viktor or Yuli Boyarshinov or the lively crowd, constantly in motion, but am forced to draw the faces of the bailiffs, frozen in the stupid frenzy of their work. Violence is such a habitual part of their work they have ceased noticing it.

I would rather not have the opportunity to draw them. I would rather this hearing had not taken place. I would like to have magical powers and make it all go away. I would snap my fingers and, instead of a court bailiff, a marvelous violinist would be standing there or a waste recycling engineer who was a feminist and vegan to boot.

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But, alas, the bailiffs pushed us back by another ten centimeters, and Ninja Turtles in balaclavas escorted Viktor into the courtroom. Our only magical powers were yelling and clapping as loudly as we could.

Like last time, I could not take it anymore. I left before the hearing was over. Where can I find the strength to endure this?

Drawings by Anna Tereshkina. I thank Ms. Tereshkina  for her kind permission to reproduce them here as well as publish a translation of the accompanying text.  All images © Anna Tereshkina, 2018. Translated by the Russian Reader.

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify that your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about The Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find downloadable, printable posters and flyers. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandize, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You canfind the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed out and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are reviewed, the Russian government will be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and repost the recent articles the Russian Reader has translated and published on these subjects.

 

Anna Tereshkina: At Viktor Filinkov’s Remand Extension Hearing

Anna Tereshkina
Facebook
March 21, 2018

I went to Viktor Filinkov’s court hearing, where his motion to have his remand in policy custody changed to house arrest was reviewed.

I arrived at the Dzerzhinsky District Courthouse by 10 a.m., already hungry although I had eaten breakfast. Outside the subway station, I bought a pasty and put it in my backpack.

It turned out there was no need to arrive fifteen minutes before the hearing was scheduled to begin, because they kept everyone stewing for over an hour before starting.

I was able to draw my girlfriends as they languished in the stuffy court building.

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Then a tall, skinny court bailiff herded everyone to the end of the hallway. Viktor was brought in, and everyone raised their arms and focused the cameras on their smartphones. There was a round of applause.

I was somehow expecting a huge ovation, but then it hit me, mournfully, that there were not very many of us, something like fifteen to twenty people, I think. Or is that a lot? Or was every other person monkeying with his or her camera?

We were not let into the courtroom immediately.

Everything seemed quite dicey, as if at any minute they might never let us out of there.

My hands were shaking, so my only drawing of Viktor did not come out very legible.

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Viktor himself looked liked a man who had not lost hope.

I noticed his shoes were tied with strange laces. Were they fashioned from plastic bags, as he had described, or did someone give him white laces for the hearing?

The judge’s voice was unexpectedly kind and polite, like the voice of a school guidance counselor.

We were kicked out of the courtroom, of course, while the court deliberated whether to hold the hearing in chambers or not.

After waiting for an hour, I took out my pasty, which had gone cold.

The lanky bailiff was tormented. He would try and drive everyone away from the passage to the courtroom, the walls, and the doors. But the people who had come to the hearing reacted to him as if he were an annoying fly. The only thing that interested them were the big wooden doors and what has happening on the other side of them.

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I sketched the bailiff, wondering whether he beat his wife and kids.

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Finally, he called another bailiff, who had bangs and wore ordinary jeans instead of the trousers issued with his uniform. He stood by the door more calmly.

Suddenly, a fresh breeze wafted through the hallway. It was workers carrying furniture. Two massive wooden benches, a wardrobe, and a whole suite of judge’s thrones adorned with crests. One of them had no seat at all, as if its makers had wanted to use it as a toilet at the dacha.

The bailiff with the bangs got distracted and stepped away from the door. One of the workers immediately dashed to our coveted Courtroom No. 9, stuck his nose in the door, and loudly asked, “Can we bring in the wardrobe?”

A clerk in a gray dress came out and said they should wait until the hearing was over.

Yes, the hearing had long been underway, but we had not even been called into the courtroom and told the court had decided to hold the hearing in chambers.

People grumbled and wrote complaints.

Nastya showed me a book, The Suffering Middle Ages, which had a chapter about how, from the twelth to fourteenth centuries, law books were lavishly illustrated with giant penises.

The tall, nervous bailiff returned and once more herded everyone to the end of the hallway.

Viktor was brought out by the guards. The applause and shouts of support were louder than the first time.

The court had again recessed for deliberation. The workers finished their unloading, and stuffiness again reigned in the hallway. Someone brought juice, biscuits, and bananas.

The bailiff with the bangs immediately popped up, saying it was forbidden to eat in the courthouse. He was probably the hungriest of us all.

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For five minutes or so, no one did, in fact, eat anything, but then we passed around the biscuits, divvied up the bananas, and poured the juice into cups. The bailiff didn not feel like reminding us again, apparently, and he said nothing.

Viktor’s defense attorney Vitaly Cherkasov came out and said we would have to wait for at least another hour. We had been sitting there for four hours as it was.

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Many people left the courthouse to have a smoke and eat lunch, so they could come back later.

I left altogether because my brain had completely melted.

I was home when I read that, at 3:46 p.m., the court had ruled Viktor be kept in police custody until June 22.

I felt a sharp pang of the suffocating absurdity that nearly everyone has accepted. But no, I hope they haven’t.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Tereshkin for her kind permission to reproduce her drawing and publish a translation of her text here. All images © Anna Tereshkina, 2018. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you need to read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.

Olga Jitlina: Adar

tereshkina-adar-1Image © Anna Tereshkina, 2018

משנכנס אדר – מרבים בשמחה
When Adar begins, joy multiplies.

I. Equality
Joy multiplies in the month of Adar. Joy arrives in the month of Adar. Why, oh why die in March? Spring is just around the corner. The darkness and cold have almost retreated. The light, like water, comes every day. To get out, clamber out from under myself as from under falling debris and beams, to shed myself like old scales. To fly, race, and run away from this exploding ruin. It is the snow melting. It is me melting. Joy surges. Joy arrives.

A friend told me in passing that joy is multiplied in the month of Adar. (Who multiplies it? Why does she do it? How does she do it?) I had always felt this poignantly, you know. At the beginning of March, on the fault line between winter and early spring, Grandmother died. During a lecture, someone from the dean’s office came to get me. They said the ambulance brigade medics who took her to hospital had been looking for me. When I arrived, she was still conscious but shrieking in pain. She asked for a shot that would make her die more quickly. Her aorta had burst. We managed to talk. I said, “Hang on, Granny. If you want, I’ll give you great-grandsons, Granny.” But she said, “March, damn March.” Her aorta had swollen two years earlier. Then, on the dawn of March 23, the police had rung the doorbell and asked whether there were any men in the house. The bed was empty, and Grandmother had dashed to the door and fallen down in the hallway. I rushed downstairs.

Very slowly and instantly, very slowly and instantly. She lay in an unbuttoned black overcoat over white panties, her t-shirt hitched up, her skinny yellow hand strangely twisted. A dent on a car. She had hit something before crashing to the ground. There was almost no blood, only a small spot near her head, and two teeth knocked out. Mom.

A negative imprint on icy pavement. An instant plunge into the abyss of the Mariana Trench. Why did you dress up as blackbird? Where are you taking me, Mother Death?

The sky’s light light light light fills floods the whole world. The sky is coming, the sky flows in like the ocean’s tide, the sky is huge, immense, and all the houses, cars, the entire dusty city, the people come undone from the earth and float in the sky like tiny flakes of yesterday’s pain, which has negotiated winter’s afflictions. Blinded by the light, consciousness bursts open toward the future, surrenders to the whirlpool of happiness, omnipotent, ready to face life’s trials and challenges.

“If we turn the IV off, she’ll die at once. If we don’t, she will be conscious for several hours or days,” the doctor said.

“Turn it off,” I said. I was eighteen.

When I left the hospital, the sky was shining, and the wind blew all the sails towards the sunset’s golden-pink clouds. I asked them that, before I got home, Grandpa’s Parkinson’s would progress to the point he would not realize he and I were alone.

Tattered thoughts rush past, shreds of memories sweep past. I don’t have the time to write them down, connect them, grab them.

You drew the line. You established the border. You will not let me into your house, your family, your life. During days of universal joy, all I can do is sit glued to the screen in solitude, peering at social network timelines where photos of your warm family festivities light up. I am hungry with envy and sadness, a tramp standing outside Yuletide windows.

I have become your illegal alien. Everyone knows about me, but they try not to notice me. You forbade taking pictures of us together, and in conversation you hide my presence with the singular. I shouldn’t leave the house too much. I should be invisible, inaudible, and inconspicuous. It should be as if I didn’t exist. I shouldn’t exist.

Clouds like ragged threads sweep across the blinding sky.

In March, the city really reveals itself only to the drunk and the desperate, to people standing on death’s windowsill. Only through the inward tears produced by the splinters of an ice floe smashed to smithereens does it flash with a hallucinatory beauty for an instant, and the first person you meet passes through the hell of a bulging heart like a thread through the eye of a needle.

My gaze crashed into you as I measured the distance from the balcony to the pavement. You lay, your head nestled against the belly of another person, lying on their back, the whites of their eyes spinning in oblivion, under my balcony. You were trying to warm yourself in the other person’s warmth or just die together. I was afraid to touch your squashed fingers, dried blood, dusty clothes, and urine-stained clothes. I told you to get up on your own and, holding onto the wall, walk with me to the front door. When we got there, before you could tell me about your eight-year-old daughter Liza and your mother in Orenburg Region, whom you had managed to send five thousand rubles before, and before I could decide whether to invite you into the flat so we could jump together or remember how to call the ambulance and where to find the address of the homeless shelter, we sobbed for a long while on the dirty front stoop, random and nameless.

It takes two or three weeks for someone who ends up on the streets to turn irretrievably into a homeless person, the same amount of time depression becomes clinical.

You are afraid of letting me in, because you know that as soon as I cross the threshold, your home will be inundated with the stench of misery and insanity. You are afraid to defile the peace of your home and loved ones. You are afraid the walls will immediately crack, and the infection of homelessness will spread to everyone. You have marked out your domain.

The pink pill rolls around inside you. It smashes you into the pavement.

Bright pink clouds lashed the eyes and scalded the brain of the body on the bloodless balcony.

The balcony can fit exactly three people. It resembles a tiny boat, a cradle careening between streams of cars and the sky. I suggested we go live there, never going back under the roof. Three wise men in a tub. Bas Jan Ader in the midst of the Atlantic. Baron Munchausen, pulling himself from the water by his own hair to fling himself into the sky’s blinding abyss.

I searched for you up and down the area around Dostoevskaya subway station, in all the attics and cellars, in the unlocked entryways and the warm spaces between the doors into the subway. In your crevice between peeling moldings and the cast-iron curls of stairway railings, all that was left of you was rubbish: a bed fashioned from crumpled newspapers and the booklet with addresses of homeless shelters I got for you the other day. We were going to meet right after the weekend. I was going to bring you clean clothes and wet wipes so you would look decent when you went to get new papers and register with the social services.

When, a few weeks later, I accidentally stumbled upon you trying to bum a cigarette, you were either completely drunk or distant. I handed you a cigarette and tried to figure out where you had been sleeping and when we would go to the homeless shelter. You could not focus and mumbled, “What they call you, sweetie?” I realized I was too late. You had already sailed away. You were already out there, furrowing the waves of the ocean in search of the miraculous. Neither your daughter Liza nor your grandmother would ever see you again. You had left your grandmother and left your grandfather. You had sailed away from me, leaving me alone with my own salvation, you smarted-ass jerk, Slavka.

tereshkina-adar-2Image © Anna Tereshkina, 2018

II. Fraternity
In moments of the most terrible despair, I imagine I have a twin brother. He is just like me, only a little different. He knows everything about me and understands me. He is the only person around whom I can cry, and to whom I am not ashamed to complain. I imagine he comes and comforts me.

We stretch our hands in the sun and laugh with joy. They are exactly the same, only slightly different colors. We have equally thin wrists and large palms with wide, seemingly broken joints and thin fingers. The hands of twins. We are different sexes, but we cannot help but find similarities in our absurd, adolescent-like bodies. Your hair is curly. Mine is straight. But we have an intangibly similar, perpetually disheveled look. My found brother.

“Sister,” said a guy sitting outside a shop and holding a dirty cap turned upside down, “Sister, some change, please.”

The noise of the lagoon gently beat against my eardrums. The sun shined, and almost without splashing the fullness of happiness, I walked by him schlepping full bags.

“I can’t go back. Everything is destroyed. I have burnt all my bridges. If you knew what it cost me to get here, what it cost me to live through this break-up—”

“Calm down. This no place to have a tantrum. Listen to me. You cannot stay. It’s impossible.”

“I laid down my whole life to get here. I scorched the past from my heart. I cut myself off from everyone.”

“It’s impossible. It’s written here in black and white. The decision on your application is negative. Where are you going to live? On the streets?”

“I’ll think of something. I have nowhere to go. I ask you to reconsider the decision.”

“You have gone through all your appeals. There is no room here for all of Africa. It’s an unbearable economic burden on our taxpayers. They cannot feed everyone.”

“I can work.”

“There’s been high unemployment here for many years.”

“I’m not afraid to do any job.”

“Even if that’s so, you’ll never really be accepted here. The culture is different.”

“I’ll learn the language. I’ll come to know your culture. I’ll become a different person.”

“Enough! Stop it! What use is any of this to us in the long run?”

I don’t know how much time has passed since I was dragged from the sea. I don’t remember being brought here. The days, weeks, and months have passed automatically, without feelings and sensations, leaving no memory of themselves, as if the cold tons of water that had squeezed me inside and outside had paralyzed my mind. As if a half-dead body had been pulled out, but what was alive in it and made it want to live had been too late to save.

I just up and went outside one morning. I walked down a street and found myself on the embankment of a wide channel or strait between islands. I felt the sun’s tender caress and smelled the seaweed. The green water picked through the shallow waves and, half asleep, smiled to no one and everyone all at once, and coral houses stood petrified and solemn along its rim. This beauty, these sounds, and the gentle warmth struck me with such force I couldn’t stand it. I fell, tensing my body, hiding my face, and closing my eyes. I suffered convulsions, and tears flooded my head. I remembered everything. Fear, hunger, a series of deaths and partings, no hope of meeting again, loneliness, despair, an endless trek, fear, fear. A mad hunted beast consumed in the depths of itself. Not everything was connected. Here and there, now and then were endlessly, unbearably separated. This could not be happening in one world; this could not be happening to one person. I had died. I was dead.

I tried to open my eyes again. On the other shore, half-turned towards me, a brick-red building with two candle-thin towers and a rounded dome floated, its white marble façade looking back at me. Four light figures—three above the forehead’s triangle and the fourth at the very top of the dome—soared from the building into the sky. Stunned by the building’s unprecedentedly simple shining grandeur, I again hid my face. Il Rendetore, Il Rendetore. Whether I had died or survived, I realized one thing: I was saved.

I don’t mind. They can work on construction sites, in closed facilities. As long they don’t plague us with their presence. I definitely don’t want my children to see them.

Why has it become so difficult? Why do I feel such horror when I imagine it? Is there something wrong with me? Can’t I leave the house like everyone else? Can’t I go where I want, like everyone else? How silly! What nonsense! I will come and say hello to everyone, as if nothing has happened. I’ll be cheerful. I’ll laugh, make jokes, and chat, hopping from topic to topic. I have been repeating this for many days. I smile to myself in the mirror. I turn on the most upbeat music. I walk along, my head lifted, a spring in my step. I’m like everyone. I’m like everyone. My heart beats harder. But here is the door. It’s not even locked: you just need to push it. No! No! It’s easier to plunge into the abyss. An ostrich in a cage, its head bumping against the ceiling. A lion cub’s severed head. Huge pumpkin halves floating in the water.

Meat carcasses. Everywhere there are meat carcasses and flies, flies, flies. If you do not come up to me first, if you are not by my side, everything will instantly fall silent, all gazes will pierce and immobilize me. Someone’s hand will pull on the end of my smiling turban, my cocoon—and I will be confronted by everyone, my face bare and frozen with animal fear.

“Can I ask you something? Do you have a boyfriend?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“I just like you.”

“Listen, I’m helping you defending your human rights, and you’re flirting with me?”

“No, no, I’m not flirting. I’m serious. I want to marry you. I sent my parents a photo of you and wrote to them you are a very good girl.”

“You’re serious? Serious is not receiving refugee status and getting sent back to a war zone. Or, at best, you stay here without papers. You’d better think about this seriously.”

“Yes, yes, I know you’re right. It’s very important. You have helped me so much. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. But everyone needs someone to be close to. Everyone needs a future in common with someone else.”

“It is natural for people to guard the borders of their house,” intoned a voice on the radio, and I could not come in to see you. Even if I had gone in, the door would simply have moved farther away and remained locked. Then my feet carried me down the stairs, flight after flight, into the courtyard, into the streets of the city to walk to the point of oblivion, until my senses were numbed, until I had lost the ability to speak, until I was anesthetized by the night’s cold.

When I was told we could have no future, that my face must be deleted from all photographs, and my name must never be said aloud, all mentions of it must be effaced and it must be forgotten, when you repeated it, and everything was on the point of collapse, I decided to save our incredible love, our unlimited intimacy in the past. We set out deep into the past. We retreated farther and farther from life, reeling through generation after generation, descending ever deeper into the branched roots of our family trees. We explored each and every fork and knot, looking for a possible intermingling, for the dead man who would silently proclaim, “I now pronounce you brother and sister.”

I don’t know how long I wandered the streets, squares, back alleys, and filthy, luxurious building lobbies, but once, when I came to my senses, I realized I was in a completely different time and city. It was phantasmagorically beautiful, but quite different from my bitter city, where beauty is spread in a thin layer over a flat space, like butter on a perestroika-era sandwich, the neoclassical columns-cum-commissars dispense an equal dose to each, and only needle-like spires are permitted to pierce the sky’s blue vein. Here, on the contrary, beauty exuded from every crevice, clambered over its own head, shook its stone lace, and doubled in the canals, leaving the eyes with not a centimeter of peace. Incredible churches squeezed between beautiful buildings, tucking in their apses. On one of the tiny squares, two blinding, blocky marble façades suddenly rose over me. I watched them, transfixed. They seemed to grow against the black sky. Then they toppled down on me with all their luxury, all their unbridled splendor, and I cried out in amazement, horror, and resentment, mortally offended for all the dull bedroom communities, the settlements consisting only of Khrushchev-era blocks of flats, plopped down in the middle of swamps, the shanty towns, jury-rigged from planks of old plywood, tarpaper, and filthy quilts, where homeless people and Roma children took shelter, mortally offended that beauty was so unfairly, so unequally dispensed.

I rushed through the intersections of an endless latticework of streets, running into dead ends and stumbling over bridges until, finally, at dawn, the sun glanced between the houses. I came to a wide embankment. In the rays of the rising sun, over the surface of waters forced apart, a clear Palladian silhouette arose, turning slightly to greet the arriving joy. Something dripped, thawing from the inside, painfully easing the winter frostbite. I realized the month of Adar had passed, and I had been able to survive the year. The time and place came into focus. It was April, my mom’s birthday and, maybe, mine, and I was ten years younger than she was when she jumped from the balcony. I stood on the same embankment where, several centuries ago, during the plague, the incurably ill were dragged so that, for the last time before they headed to the cemetery, they would believe in salvation.

Pateh Sabally, a twenty-two-year-old Gambian man, tried to stay afloat in a canal while onlookers shot him on video, peppered him with racist remarks, and laughed. In one video, you can hear the onlookers screaming at him, “Go on, go back home.”

At least three life rings were thrown into the water, but Sabally did not try and reach them, which suggests he committed suicide.

No one jumped into the water to help Sabally, and he drowned.

tereshkina-adar-3Image © Anna Tereshkina, 2018

III. Liberty
Remember, when we embraced for the first time, everything fell into place, everything was as it should have always been. The planets no longer had to orbit the sun. They finally had come home. They had found their safe haven. You wove me a cocoon of tenderness from kisses, words, and touches. It will protect me always and everywhere. And if you are with me when I die, I will die happy.

But only you and also you were blinded by pain at the same moment.

Dost thou remember, do you remember, how on that morning, when we awake together, embracing, and laugh at the joy of feeling each other, the happiest day will dawn? Everyone will share love with everyone else, and there will only be more love. Fear, jealousy, despair, barbed wire, and checkpoint politeness will be left behind. All the homeless, insane, undocumented, illegal and semi-legal, prostitutes, mistresses, and street urchins will stand straight up and solemnly along the sunny streets, and everyone else, giddy, will rush out to them, leaving their homes forever. Smiles will crack immured faces, and the age-old plaster of affliction will spill onto the ground and people’s clothes. The wind will waft the dust away. The buds of joy will burst open with a crash and sprout through every creature. And the joy keeps on coming and coming and coming. We multiply the joy.

Dost thou remember? And thou? Do you remember? Do we remember?

Originally written as a personal letter by Olga Jitlina, although this text never achieved its aim, it was the basis of Fraternité, an audio walk round Venice in October 2017. Curated by Vera Kavaleuskaya and Alina Belishkina, the walk was part of Research Pavilion: Access to Utopia. Illustrations by Anna Tereshkina. Translation by Thomas Campbell. A huge thanks to Ms. Tereshkina and Ms. Jitlina for permission to reprint their work here.