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A cell with a view Belarusian artist Anastasiya Mirontsava shares poignant drawings and letters from prison

Source: Meduza

There are six sisters in the Mirontsava family. In August 2020, three of them — Viktoriya, Aliaksandra, and Anastasiya — were detained during the opposition protests in Minsk. Aliaksandra managed to flee Belarus, but Viktoriya and Anastasiya were found guilty of “breaching public order” and “using violence against police officers” and sentenced to time in prison. The two sisters, who are now in a prison colony, are considered political prisoners. Prior to her arrest, Anastasiya was a student at the Belarusian State Academy of Arts in Minsk. She continued drawing even while in custody — first in a detention center and now inside the camp. Anastasiya passes her drawings and letters to close friends, who publish them on an Instagram account dedicated to her artwork. Despite the difficult conditions in which she lives and works, Anastasiya’s texts and drawings are full of curiosity and tenderness toward the world. With the artist’s permission, Meduza shares some of Anastasiya Mirontsava’s works and excerpts from her letters here.

“Asya.” December 11, 2020. 
“Brake.” October 31, 2020.
“Awaiting Transfer.” November 20, 2020.
A letter from the pre-trial detention center: “We are given dishes when they feed us. Then, of course, they are taken away. In our cell we only have aluminum cups. We boil water in them. They get very hot, you can’t hold them in your hands. But Tanya [another detainee] makes rings from the SB [the pro-government newspaper Sovetskaya Belarus], with them [around the cup] it’s fine. We drink coffee and tea through straws [made] from pens so as not to burn our lips.”
Anastasiya Mirontsava sent a letter with this drawing after her trial. She was sentenced to two years in a prison colony. 
Anastasiya’s letter after her trial: “Hello. Please don’t be too upset. Of course, I too am slightly shocked by such a blatantly rigged trial. But I will not focus on this. With such rotten courts everything is clear. So I want to support you all! To say that everything is fine. It’s too bad that these letters can’t arrive right now. After all, all of you and mom have the nastiest [feeling] in your soul[s] right now. Of course you’re angry and hurt!”
Mirontsava’s letter after her transfer to the prison colony in June 2021: “Well, we made it. Vika [Viktoriya] and I were transported together. We, unlike the others, were alone. And it was super! At one point I even zoned out and forgot where I was going :) I was just high from the trip itself. When we first set off on the train, it was already dark. But there were echoes of a beautiful sunset in the sky :) And I managed to sleep there and admire the views racing through the window: [there were] forests in the distance. And the river was cool! In short, we arrived safely. I will not write about the unpleasant moments. These are little things. Half of our things weren’t allowed. You can’t wear your own [clothes] here at all. You can only wear your slippers in the room. It already feels much nicer here. The air, the space, the movement, the sun. The chairs aren’t attached to the floor. And it’s pretty cozy in the cafeteria, by the way. There are cool flowers on the windowsills, [they’re] unfamiliar to me. The lights have been turned off. Completely! There are none of those lamps [like in the pre-trial detention center]! Wow! :) But the cold street lights pour through the window. It looks pretty. The big windows. There are civilian bars on them. And there’s a cool play of light and shadows on the walls.”
“We still have walks seven times a day for ten minutes. In the morning there were such cool cirrus clouds. How beautiful everything is in nature. In the SIZO [pre-trial detention center] we clung to such little things and admired them! Here it’s comparably more pleasant for the eyes and for the soul. Though there’s more freedom here, and it’s much better than our previous sanatorium, I miss home, mom, and you even more. It’s just a kind of homesickness. But at the same time, there’s also a sort of good mood. On the territory of the camp I’ve already seen spruce, birch, and three more types of trees! But it feels like they are prisoners themselves. It’s somehow sad to look at them, even though they are beautiful. The trees, streetlights, and cities [I saw] from the window of the [train] are different matter. I would like to admire landscapes of freedom.”
The drawing “Treats from Vika” created while in pretrial detention. Here’s an excerpt from one of Anastasiya Mirontsava’s letters about everyday life in the prison camp: “Time flies very quickly when sewing! Lightening fast. This week we were on the second shift and came back almost at 10 o’clock. It’s very cool to walk along the street at dusk. I’m still on the fourth floor and there’s a cool view from the windows. I like to come from the factory in the evening, wash up quickly, and [then] there’s 20 minutes left to drink tea or coffee. To sit opposite the window in the [cafeteria] and admire the view of the city at night. How the buses and trolleys carry people. Many, probably, to their homes. I watch how people walk. Ride their bikes. The windows in the houses are lit up, the street lights illuminate the trees standing by the road. I can’t describe what a pleasure it is to admire the city from the window at night.”
“Yesterday we drew tea bags with fortunes and quotes. And somehow everyone drew [fortunes] for themselves that seemed to apply. Mine was: ‘My motto is: Contented with little, yet wishing for more,’ [by the poet] Charles Lam. An interesting tip from the Universe.” 
“Over time, strange things happen here. It seems to be flying fast. But sometimes it seems that what happened in the morning happened a week ago. Or it didn’t happen at all.” 
“I wanted to write [full-fledged] works from some of the drawings. But of course I don’t know whether I’ll write [them]. I thought about it recently. I’m so tired of it all. But what I would like is landscapes. And more sky…Quiet forest motifs…And of course, city streets at night. By the way, there’s a very cool view from the window of the cell at night. The windows, street lights, and all that are lit up. It’s a pity I don’t sleep nearby.”
A portrait drawn by Anastasiya Mirontsava in prison
This decorated letter was written to Anastasiya Mirontsava in response to her work. It was sent to her in prison in June. Whether or not the artist received it remains unknown. 
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