On November 26, 2021 Iryna Slaunikava became suspected of criminal offence on ‘arrangement and preparation of acts roughly violating public order’. And late November 2022 there was a new accusation added: ‘management of extremist formation’.
On August 3, 2022 the Gomel regional court sentenced the politically detained journalist to 5 years of imprisonment in a low security prison.
The story of Iryna is told by her husband and friends.
It’s hard for me to unburden my heart because lately I’ve been disappointed in many things and many people. My point: nothing is being done to solve the problems of the politically imprisoned. There are thousands of broken fates of Belarusians. I’ve got the only task: I want to get my wife out of jail and take her away at all costs.
All in all, Iryna is in a good mood. She is always cheerful, stays positive. There were some visits with kinsfolk. The hardest thing is the regret of losing all that time. One lives their active life for fifty years, and then someone takes ten percent of life just for no reason. We have travelled a lot, went diving. And now they took the time she could spend with her people, took away her favourite activities, the life of a usual human. That is what she, for sure, regrets a lot.
We have been together for twenty-two years. Never were apart for more than two weeks. I haven’t seen her for a year. She is fifty-two, in five years she’s turning fifty-seven. What is she being under arrest for, for whom?
We had discussed the topic of departure some times before the arrest took place. Her point was like: «Why should we leave if we did nothing?» Moreover, we had elderly parents in Belarus. Well, and what to do abroad? You can’t take all your previous life with you, everything you’ve built for yourself. Certainly, if only we could assume that everything turns out like this, we would have left. But we just were taken at the airport.
Iryna was imprisoned, I was also put into prison, and then turned out of the country. I left not to create another problem and load for my parents if I would be taken once again. I stayed in Ukraine, met the war there, then moved further. Maybe my point of view is too negative but for almost a year I’ve been moving through the countries alone, communicating with different politicians, turning to the organisations, to the diplomats – and do not see any results. Often they just don’t even reply to me, including those who were personally acquainted with Iryna, and somebody ‘politely tells me where to get off’.
How do I see the solution to the problem now – it is a bargain, even though nobody is ready for that. And I think that the main thing is to get Belarusians out of prisons by any means.
To my mind, the most productive thing that could be done by the press – this is to influence the politicians that possess the possibilities to determine something. It is also often said about the ‘applications for pardon’. Many would have written them, but there’s no confidence that things are likely to change. They don’t write such applications because practically nobody is freed, there’s no such a tendency.
Iryna doesn’t get all the letters. Even from the relatives they would be handed over too selectively. She gets the letters from me, from her parents, sometimes – from my mother, sister. But the ones from the son – not. Not even talking about the friends. That is one out of ten letters that could reach her, but people are not robots also: they write once, write twice, even the third time, but when there’s no answer, they will not go on writing again.
The situation is really devaluated on the contexts of war in Ukraine. There are dead bodies in the streets lying, so the Ukrainians just look at us and say: ‘Well, what’s your trouble, the enforcers beat up with sticks?’. One can get used to anything. Now in Belarus many don’t perceive such a pain.
But how to transmit that this is really painful – to such an extent that our situation won’t be taken as a routine case?
We got acquainted with Iryna in the first year of study at Narkhoz, now it’s BSEU [Belarusian State Economic University]. Studied at different faculties, but happened to be in one company. She was hard not to be noticed: Ira is always striking and stylish. Saying about the temper – very open, well-wishing and kind-hearted person.
If someone needs her help, Iryna won’t be thinking it over, she doesn’t even need to be asked for, she will offer help herself. At the same time, she is goal-seeking, with strong character and true to her principles. In addition, incredibly brave in taking the decisions, in her own actions. Somehow after the study we communicated even more. Together we went on holidays, our children also grew up together.
We happened to get into journalism accidentally. We had luck to meet Tatiana Melnichuk. Many journalists of Belarusian independent mass media can name themselves as her pupils. Tatiana was the editor-in-chief of «Belarusian youth» newspaper, where Iryna worked as an accountant. When Iryna took her maternity leave, she suggested that I take her place. But I didn’t work as an accountant for long: Tatiana Melnichuk re-recruited me to be a journalist, and then also did that to Iryna when she came back to work.
After the newspaper closed, Iryna worked as a journalist one time or another. Then worked in printed and electronic media. With the lapse of time, she became a vigorous professional – an excellent editor-in-chief. It is marked by many people who worked with her.
It seems to me that every business Iryna gets down to does well. She likes cooking and is really good at – it’s a pleasure to be her guest. Iryna even sewed a dress for the New Year’s celebration for my daughter when she was little. Also she can knit, goes scuba diving. What is more, Iryna loves travelling and can arrange the trips for really sane costs. Thanks to her skills, we’ve visited Mexico and Hainan Island in China.
Several times we started a conversation about her leaving the country, but nevertheless she remained there. Why? It seems to me that she strongly believed in human decency and common sense. And that just a profession is not the cause to put someone in prison.
I have been acquainted with Iryna Slaunikava for too long. I have counted it and surprised myself – 28 years! In 1994 «Belarusian youth» newspaper was created after the closing of the radio station of the same name. I came there as a journalist and Iryna as an accountant. She always was sociable, and at once she successfully entered our variegated journalist environment.
After the birth of her son Iryna came back to the newspaper, but the position of an accountant was taken, and she joyfully accepted an offer to try her hand in journalism. I don’t remember the topics that could be declined by her. Together we went down into the mines of Soligorsk, visited ‘unforgotten villages’ (we had such a media project), and even made a humorous review of condoms. Iryna is a ‘universal soldier’.
Slaunikava is our firelighter. Her distinctive manner of speaking, her peculiar laughter and sense of humour – it’s impossible to imagine that «Belarusian youth» newspaper without her. And even later when we all ran to our places Iryna supported that atmosphere.
I deeply respect her professional path. It would be fair to say that she’s a self-made woman – for the costs of incredible working capacity and self-management.
All in all, Iryna is such a human that can live beautifully in the common sense of this word. Sometimes one could kindly be envious of her. Everything by her is somehow settled, things are put in order at home and at work, all that she planned – happened. Iryna has got impeccable taste and intention to create beauty and cosiness around her. She’s perfect at housekeeping, loves cooking different dishes, and knitting. She’s also fond of yoga (‘So what, made some asanas at work – and done’, she said).
And, of course, travelling and cats. Besides, travelling doesn’t mean just sunbathing somewhere at the beach. Iryna and her husband are keen on diving, they even have special wetsuits. Well, cats are another great topic.
Unfortunately, the letters from Iryna were received only at the beginning of her imprisonment. Now she doesn’t get the correspondence from non-relatives. But we regularly receive her regards. So, the connection with her really felt itself.
No matter how it sounds, I think that women who happened to stay in a prison cell with Iryna, are lucky in some senses. She definitely won’t let them and herself feel utterly dejected.
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