We were transferred from our prison truck to another one, the so-called truck with cubicles. Men and women were transported separately. Tanya and I were both sitting in a tube meant for one person only. It was extremely stuffy. The walls were all covered with blood. We had a phone: Tanya had managed to keep hers. We texted people on the outside to let them know we had been detained.
They drove us to Okrestina, and that is where the toughest part began. I felt like a powerless animal at the mercy of its master. They loaded us, the women, out to the exercise yard, an outdoor room with bars overhead, and ordered us to stand along the wall...
I was the first one to be searched and faced a female superintendant called either Karina or Kristina. The search was very rough: she undressed me in a rude manner, threw my clothes around, ripped the inner soles out of my tennis shoes and made me squat naked. Other girls shared later on that if you were having your period, she would order you to remove your pad. Outright humiliation.
I was pushed out to the hallway after the search, wearing a bra only, my pants unzipped. I had to get dressed right there.
And then I saw something I had not expected to see at all. There were guys kneeling completely naked, hands behind their backs, faces down. The entire hallway – its floor and walls – was blood-stained. You could hear the superintendents swearing and those guys groaning and weeping.
At that point I realised no one would release me. The law had stopped functioning, if it ever had at all.
A thought flashed in my head: this must be exactly the way you feel when you get captured by terrorists. All the law enforcement officers whose duty it is to guard and protect are now mutilating and murdering us.
After all the girls had been searched, we were directed to a cell with four beds and 35 people in it. It was the night of August 10–11. Afterwards I realized this first had been a true luxury resort: the following night we were as many as 50.
The women were crying. The thing that really saved me was that I was not alone. I had Tanya staying with me. It would have been a lot harder to get through all that without her.
I watched Sobibor, a Konstantin Khabensky movie, literally a year ago. A scene portraying well-groomed and dressed Jewish women being forced into a cell and simply gassed to death had etched itself into my memory. I was sitting on the upper level of that bunk bed, looking at all our girls and thinking that one could just let gas into the cell and we'd all be gone. We had no identity papers or possessions. How the hell could you prove if we had been there or not? Those were the kind of thoughts dashing through my mind.
We slept on a mattress and passed pillows and blankets over to the girls who lay on the floor. They spread them out and piled up on them. Some slept under the bunk bed, others on the table. A girl spent three days inside a small cabinet – there was one with no doors or shelving. When asked "Are you comfy?" she answered: "At least I can't down fall this way".
They detained us on August 10th and only brought us food (salty oats and bread) on the 12th in the morning, and the next time the day afterwards. Tea was offered twice. That's all we ate in three days.
We had no toilet paper, just a tap with chlorinated water and a plastic bottle. We filled it with water, put it near the toilet and just washed ourselves.
We lacked air, so we asked to open the hatch they gave us food through. But the blond female superintendent said: "You won't croak". Well, it's true: we didn't.
Many were desperate. One of the girls had a ligament rupture. Her leg was so swollen that we could not take her pants off to apply a cold compress. We asked for an ambulance, but they brought NO-SPA (drotaverine) instead. To treat a swollen leg! The girl spent two days lying under the bunk bed to prevent others from stepping on her leg accidentally.
There was a girl dragged by the riot policemen into a prison truck and beaten up by a whole group of them. Her eye was bloodshot, half of her head was swollen, and she had been marked out with yellow paint. I later read that people with hipster or subculture-like looks were marked that way. The girl had dreadlocks.
Particularly aggressive detainees were marked with red paint. Such a mark meant an entitlement to beat people half to death, whereas those with a black mark became eligible to be fully beaten to death. They said people with no identity card and drunken ones were marked black. However, this is just a speculation.
When you are confined in a cell, it seems everyone has forgotten about you and nobody is looking for you. It is an utter information vacuum. We were constantly staring out of the window. At some point the girls started shouting: "There is someone wearing a Press vest!" I rushed to the window and saw our cameraman. That was a boost. I understood that people were looking for me and making an effort, after all, but I just hadn't been aware of it.
Being beaten on your back and legs is a simple fact of life at Okrestina, as well as the humiliation of being dragged and pushed into a cell like some pig to the slaughter.