Following the illegitimate 9 August 2020 presidential election, protests erupted across Belarus, prompting an unprecedented crackdown from the authorities which continues unabated. One year since the election, hundreds of political prisoners remain in the country.
Letters from Lukashenka’s Prisoners, gives unjustly detained individuals a voice by collecting, translating, and publishing letters on our channels. This campaign is a collaborative project by Belarus Free Theatre, Index on Censorship, Human Rights House Foundation and Politzek.me.
Read more about Viktar Pantsaleeu and other Belarusian political prisoners here.
Translations are available in Russian and Belarusian here.
The letter below is to his wife, Yauhenia Pantsaleeva. They had been together for four years but broke up in May 2020. When Yauhenia found out Viktar had been detained, she wrote to him, and they subsequently got back together. The couple were married on 27 April 2021 inside the pre-trial detention centre. The following month, in May 2021, Viktar was sentenced to four years in a maximum-security colony.
In his first letter, Viktar quotes from the writings of Soviet historical novelist, Valentin Pikul. Bereginya is a supernatural being – a kind of goddess – in Slavic mythology. Viktar tells Yauhenia that he would like her to be the “keeper of our hearth”, a reference to Bereginya’s role, who according to Pikul, “protects the family”. Viktar also refers to a drawing he included in his letter to Yauhenia (see below).
The second letter was written nearly two weeks after Viktar and Yauhenia were married. He wishes her a happy victory day – 9 May marks the anniversary of the victory over Germany in the Second World War. He shares his daily routine, including details about his physical activity and refers to his participation in a “sack fight”, a kind of sport where the participants duel with filled sacks. He also says he goes to the colony’s “town”, which is likely to be a reference to the area of the prison where there is a library, a phone, and other services. He says he has been reading a lot. He read the ancient Chinese text, Tao Te Ching, and is currently reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.
Hi my darling :)❤️I am writing you a letter in advance, without waiting for a reply to my last letter, I really wanted to write 🙂 I want to tell you right away that I love you. I realise what a fool I was when I lost you, forgive me my dear, for all the bad things I did, for the way I treated you, my little one. I read some things and, you know, I want you to be the keeper of our hearth. “Women’s health is more important than men’s. The ancient Slavs, our ancestors, worshipped a woman with a glorious name: Bereginya. Bereginya protects all of us, and we are obliged to take care of her.” Be my Bereginya, pray for us as I pray, wait for me, and I speak of the love that comes to a man of unparalleled greatness, as if he were given only one woman for his entire life!
I want you, my dear one, to be like the girl in my drawing, praying for us, closing your eyes to everything! Believe! Love! My giving to you will be so strong that we’ll go to heaven one day! I want you to be happy! I want you to be my wife, I want you to give me what people live for, a little one! Beautiful like you and strong like me – a baby! Love you❤️my girl
Hi my dear 🙂
Today is the 9th of May. Happy Holidays to you 🙂
Yesterday I finally got your letter, but not as a girl but as a wife 🙂 It was long-awaited for me. I love you more and more every day. I even do not know how much more 🙂 I don’t even know how to reply to this letter. I’ve already written many times about this day when our family was born. But what I will never stop saying is that you are so beautiful and especially on our wedding day 🙂 It was so special and unforgettable. Oh yeah I got three letters [from you] at once. I forgot to write. But one at a time. Firstly, you’re the most incredible and beloved wife in the world 🙂 Secondly, say hello to everyone from me and thank them very much for the congratulations 🙂 Thank you very much for your support, it’s the best and priceless gift for me. If I could be there for you I would be very happy to see all those people too 🙂 Cool. They’re my heroes – thanks to them all for everything 🙂 ❤️ love you and them.
I wasn’t worried when I was coming to the room [where we were getting married] – I was going to my destiny 🙂 I got a little bit worried during the ceremony, but I’m so happy. I got used to it by the way – I call you my wife 🙂
I did not want to leave because I wanted to run away with you but then I saw that you were in high heels and thought that you might hurt your leg. I will never forget that image, those emotions 🙂
And now for the “questions from the wife” section. I got a little distracted going to the canteen 🙂 The first question: Where and at what time I write? My dear, I usually write sometime between 13.00 and until 16.00. But if the letter is as big as this one, I have to add some time. Basically, we write on a stool or at the table if there is room. There’s no point in writing more often than I do 🙂 [Because] it’s always the same. Now for the competitions. I’ve been in two competitions: in the first one I came in third place in the sack fight and I came third in 100kg deadlift, after lifting 21 times. I lifted 70kg 34 times. You can look up online what the deadlift is. The second event was dedicated to [commemorating] the day the colony [was formed], where we won 2nd place in the relay race. I was in the team 🙂 We won a sweet prize. We’re waiting for a reward from the administration and maybe the penalty will be lifted sooner. That’s it. Now your question about weight :). I recently weighed 87 kg – I work out every day 🙂 My physique is athletic – you’ll like it a lot 🙂 With the regime I’ve already written somewhere in the letter that I’ll look and write 🙂 Love you my sweetheart 🙂
Next, the question of how we wash ourselves: interesting question 🙂 Every day except weekends I am in the industrial area and there is a shower there, where we wash. On Sundays we have a so-called sauna, although it is the usual shower, there is also a laundry here and a steam room, but I have never been there. What a bed – if you can call it that 🙂 two-tier iron bed with two wooden spring-loaded inserts. On top of the mattress are cotton sheets and two sheets to sleep with. The blanket is wool, but it’s not a feather pillow:) I’m used to this luxury by now. It’s kind of comfortable to sleep. I miss you, I hug my pillow and imagine you’re asleep on my shoulder, that’s the situation 🙂
I don’t know what to tell you about everyday life. We all try to help each other out by sharing vegetables or candy. At 6.00, we wake up and immediately go to the dining room canteen, washed and shaved. We don’t use the electric shaver here. Afterwards, we go to work and then to lunch, and then back to the workshop. If I immediately go to sports at 14.00, then I’ll be waiting for dinner at 16.00. Then, after dinner, there’s an hour and a half before I know who’s doing what, who’ll be working out, who’ll eat more (like me), who’ll watch TV. In short, everyone has something to do. After checking the 19.30 movie, I might watch it if I worked out at 14.00. If I don’t go to the [colony’s] town, I wash up and go to sleep at 22.00. This is my life. I have lectures to listen to, I make calls, [listen to] local bands’ concerts, there are all sorts of skits, etc. There is a library, so I read as long as there is something to read 🙂 I read Tao Te Ching. Right now, I’m reading Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. It’s astrophysics 🙂 It’s already the 5th book [I’ve read here]. I’ve got a couple more books in mind 🙂 So no need for now 🙂 Thank you my darling :* What kind of films have you seen?
Notes in the margins:
Writing briefly =) A date is coming up =) ❤️ love you ❤️
Smile, my girl =) I love your smile ❤️
I remember when I promised that winter and New Year’s Eve will be the last time we won’t see each other but I was wrong, it started snowing in huge flakes one morning and to tell the truth, when I saw it I thought about you and the dog right away 🙂 I don’t know why. I imagined your happiness and I wished I was with you to see all this beauty 🙂 I certainly do not stop believing in the miracle that everything will be over soon, but in my head I realise that I’ll be here for so long and will not be able to see sunsets and sunrises with you, the first snow, spring rains. It tears me apart inside, even one day is long and boring enough… […] I’ll move away from the topic and before I forget I want to share my writing technique, in short =)
Writing a letter: I put one of my favourite photos in front of me and I write 🙂 When I write I feel that I am having a dialogue with you, though I cannot feel you physically ❤️ I am the happiest person on earth ❤️