How Olesya and Lada, the relatives of political prisoner Kim Samusenko, now live

Olesya Zhitkova is the wife of political prisoner Kim Samusenko.  In 2020, their daughter Lada was born. In November of that year, Kim and his brother Alexei were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. The brothers were accused of hacking into the Minsk City Executive Committee's computer system and participating in or organizing actions that violated public order.

After her husband's arrest, Olesya and Lada went to her parents in Ukraine. The Russian invasion left Olesya and Lada in Krapivnitsky, central Ukraine. Now they are in Poland, where they evacuated like many other Ukrainians. We met the mother and the daughter in a cafe in Warsaw and listened to their story.

- How did you find out that the war started?

- We were in my hometown - Krapivnitsky. There were no airstrikes - I just woke up to the sound of planes.  As I understood it, it was our air defense. I went into the news and saw that Russia had carried out airstrikes. So I found out.

- Is there fighting in Krapivnitsky now?

- There is no military action, but air raid sirens are constantly sounding.

- Did any of your relatives stay there?

- I have many friends and relatives. Ukraine is my home country and many cities I have friends with. Many of whom I met while studying in Kyiv at the University. People from different towns come there to learn. So I have at least one classmate in each area.  In all those now dangerous to live in cities near Kyiv, flashing in the news, I also have many acquaintances. I monitor every day - whether this person is online or not online. If I am safe with my baby, it does not mean that I feel every day. I have relatives and many friends who stayed in Ukraine.

- How did you cross the border - probably there were difficulties?

- Yes, it wasn't easy. First queues on the roads. And secondly, the lines at the border. The whole territory of Ukraine is now a territory of hostilities. So it is tough to stand in line and not go anywhere. It was scary, just scary. I had to go through half of the country shelled by Russians.

- How fast did you cross the border?

- For two and a half days. And it was still fast. What the Ukrainians helped me along the way helped me a lot. They gave shelter. During this queue (and it reached 25 kilometers), locals brought food diapers - all that is possible. Belarusians helped with information - they contacted volunteers who told me were, what in Poland, who to contact. Now Belarusians in Warsaw have helped me with housing.

- What is the responsibility of Belarusians for this war?

- Belarusians are not responsible, but some people with Belarusian passports are.

- Is the state of Belarus responsible?

- Airstrikes are taking place from the territory of Belarus. That is a fact.

- Some Ukrainians condemn Belarusians today. When do you think relations between our peoples will restore? 

- It seems that it will take some time for communication to be re-established. I read different people, so to speak, thought leaders. Some say that everything will be fine (between Belarusians and Ukrainians), and some say that we can not make half-hearted decisions today - there is either a plus or a minus. However, I believe that people who understand Belarusians will understand everything in any case. And people who are less versed in the situation in Belarus, its depth will take some time to realize.

I have always said you do not need to try the Ukrainian experience in Belarusian. And say what needed to be done and how. Now people continue to give advice. But it's good to speak correctly from the side. So we have to stop giving advice and leave our situation.

- How can Belarusians help Ukraine and Ukrainians?

- First, to help Ukrainians who left. Adapt to Warsaw, for example. It can be done by those who have lived here for a long time. Secondly, we need informational support from Ukrainians. I know that it is difficult, I know that it is punished, but it should be done to Belarusians in Belarus. Just tell those in an alternative reality who watch Belarusian or Russian TV. It may be futile work, but nonetheless.

We have cities considered pro-Russian (or have a pro-Russian element) come out today without weapons, with Ukrainian flags against tanks. I am very proud of my people and that Ukrainians do so. They express their position in this way, demoralizing the enemy.

- When will the war end?

- I think it will not be soon because a motivated Ukraine will not agree to capitulate and will not go to the conditions set by Russia. Imagine the situation. It's as if a neighbor came, beat me, and says, "I'll save you and take half of your house." He thinks I'll tell him: "Let's negotiate. I'll give you a quarter of the house." No, there is only one option for this neighbor to come out ultimately. Half-measures are impossible here, and Ukrainians are motivated to defend themselves and their country. So Russia will have to give up. I don't know how soon they will go for it.

- Tell us about Kim. What kind of person is he?

 - Kim is a responsible person, a person of his word. There are some essential things in his life: his country, family, friends with whom he has been together for a long time. Kim is very determined. At times even uncompromising. If he knows how to do it right, but it will make him sad, he will do it anyway. For example, when we got married, he said in his oath, "I will tell you the truth if neither you nor I like it."

Kim is an open person, does not hide anything, and does what he thinks is right. Kim is Belarusian-speaking. I speak Ukrainian. That's why we initially spoke Russian because it was difficult to understand each other.

- But the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages are similar.

- Yes, but it was still difficult at first. When Lada was born, we each spoke in our language. It was fundamental. Well, together, of course, we watched some programs or movies in Ukrainian or Belarusian.

By the way, the arrest of Kim is what helped me write better and speak Belarusian. After all, there is a choice - to correspond in Russian or Belarusian. So I write in Kim’s native language. There are, of course, mistakes, but you are no less. The main thing is practice. When Kim leaves, I suggest that he switch to his language in everyday life, not using Russian.

- Which of you is more like Lada?

- In character, as well as outwardly, similar to Kim and me.  Our standard features are manifested—such activity, principled news, desire to go to the end.

- Does Kim know you're safe now?

- Yes. I don't know if Kim has received my letters now because I haven't received them from him for two weeks. But his mother was on a date. She told him that everything was fine, that Lada and I were safe.

- Did your letters reach him?

- The part did not reach. After all, we number the letters, which is clear from these numbers what happened and what did not. If you count, half of it has not reached somewhere.

- Your attitude to the sentence and the term of imprisonment? (Kim was sentenced to 6 and a half years)

- It was unpleasant. On the other hand, the maximum term could be even longer. But it seems that Kim will not be in jail all this time.

- Will the release of your husband and other political prisoners depend on Russia's defeat in the war with Ukraine?

- There are different options. It is difficult to say anything now because some characters lack logic, as my experience has shown. I thought earlier, for example, that attacking Ukraine is illogical.  But as you can see, it happened. So now you can be anything - plus and minus.

My goal, political prisoners' relatives, is to stay in shape and not lose faith.

- How do you see your life after Kim will release - where will you live?

- Even before the full-scale war, it was unclear. We discussed the various options in the letters (as far as possible).  I even wrote that we would have to think about where to live because Russia would attack. As it happened, we need to restore everything. I think we will be where it will be safe for the baby. After all, this is our future.  And then we will move away from reality - if it is safe to live in Ukraine or Belarus, we will live there because this is our land.

- Ukraine is Europe. What about Belarus?

- Geopolitically, Belarus is not Europe now. Maybe Eurasia.

- But will it be part of Europe?

- I know many Belarusians, including my friends, who are fighting for Belarus to be Belarus and not be influenced by anything. I can't say that Belarus is now a north-western part of Russia, but I wouldn't know that it is now independent. I believe that Belarusians will influence what is happening in the country.

- How can we help you now?

- Maybe the best option would be to help with the job. Do not give the fish, and provide the bait to be afloat in this situation. By education, I am a candidate for historical sciences. I recently completed an IT course in web design. In Ukraine, I was looking for just a remote job (because the baby is small). Now I hope to get used to the new place, put everything in order and find a job.

P.S. At the end of the interview, we talked about the snail Joseph - a character Kim invented in jail.

(drawing by Olga Yakubovskaya)

“We asked him to draw something, and he came up with such a snail-coffee man Joseph. It is a snail that is extremely fond of coffee and is ironic about everything—such kind of Kim`s Tyler Durden (character of the movie "Fight Club").

If you want, write to Joseph. He will try to answer as soon as he has time, or as Kim will be free.  Hopefully, this will happen quickly.

P.P.S. You can write to Kim Samusenko by sending him a letter to: prison №4. 212011, Mogilev, street  Krupskaya, 99A, you also have the opportunity to become a Friend of this family or support Olesya and Lada by contacting us.
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