Under Pressure: Leaders of Key Belarus Media Organisation Arrested
For more than five years, the Belarus Press Club has openly supported the media community in the country, promoting higher standards of journalism and providing a platform for discussion and debate. Hundreds of lectures and master classes have been held under its auspices, with many international experts offering their knowledge and time to help develop media talent and freedom of expression in Belarus.

That all changed late last month, when the founder of the Press Club Yuliya Slutskaya, Programme Director Alla Sharko, Financial Director Sergey Olshevski and cameraman Peter Slutsky were arrested. They are being held at a detention facility in the capital Minsk on criminal charges of tax evasion.
On December 22, Yulia Slutskaya was detained at the airport upon arrival in Minsk following a vacation. Searches were conducted at the Press Club office where Sergey Olshevski and Peter Slutsky were and at the homes of Slutskaya, Sergey Olshevsky, Programme Director of the Press Club Academy Sergei Yakupov, and Alla Sharko. Security officers seized computers, phones, bank cards; our colleagues were detained. Yakupov was deported to Russia on December 31 and forbidden entry in Belarus for 10 years; no charges have been made against him.

For almost 24 hours, neither lawyers nor relatives could find out where the detainees were being held. They were later understood to have been at the Financial Investigation Department of the State Control Committee and then to have been transported to the detention centre at Okrestsina. Finally, on December 24, the news broke that all were suspects in a criminal case under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code (grand tax evasion) and would remain imprisoned at the detention centre.

On December 31, Slutskaya, Olshevsky, Sharko and Slutsky were charged under that same article, as well as under Part 6 of Article 16 of the Criminal Code (complicity in a crime). They have been remanded in custody until at least February 23.

Their relatives and lawyers tell their stories.
CONTENTS:

"Your mother has been detained by the financial police"
Aleksandra Slutskaya
Yuliya Slutskaya's daughter
Despite the absurdity of the situation, I think I'm lucky. Because in the last ten days before the arrest, mother was mine alone: we were together in Egypt having a wonderful time. Since usually there's work, things to do, we otherwise only talked on the phone and met once a week at best. And then this gift: so many days together.

We spoke about everything, shared our dreams, our heart's desires. But every morning, a crow showed up at our balcony and croaked nastily. It somehow stung me, but mother only laughed at my hobgoblin terrors. Yet that crow obviously was making its sorry prophecy.

During our vacation I read on the internet that it's the midwinter solstice on December 21 and one can make a wish. Before leaving for the airport, we sat on the seashore, listened to the waves, watched the sunset and made our wishes.
Yuliya Slutskaya
And later that night, we left for Minsk. I remember taking pictures through the airplane window. The first picture was of the turquoise sea lit by the sun and the second was of the grey and wet snow at landing. I thought at that moment that exiting the airplane into that wet snow was the worst thing that can happen to us. I was wrong.

Then there was passport control where our passports were not returned to us and they took us aside.
They said, “Don't worry, you just need to take the red customs corridor and you will be free to go.”
They took me and my children first, quickly inspected our suitcase, gave the inspection certificate and released us. And I started waiting for my mother – 10 minutes, 15, 20. And half an hour later I realised something was wrong, especially because her phone was already unavailable.

I raced around the airport, all the service departments – customs control, police. But nobody could tell me anything. Then finally, I heard, "Your mother has been detained by financial police."

I went to my mother's home at once at the same time dialling Sergey Olshevski's and my brother, Peter Slutsky's phones. Their phones rang, which seemed like a good sign to me. But they didn't pick up. As I found out later, inspections were being conducted at that time at the Press Club's office. Not a search, but an inspection.

Then I rang my father and he said that they had just brought mother and an inspection was taking place in our flat. As he later recalled, it was civilised and polite, and they didn't trash the place. A laptop, phones and cards were confiscated, that's all. All this time I was waiting downstairs, at the entrance. In about 30 minutes, mother came out with seven or eight people in civilian clothes.
Yuliya Slutskaya
I was told they were taking her to the Financial Investigations Department, FID. I went there right away, together with my mother's lawyer. I didn't know yet that my brother, Petya, was also detained. It was at about seven in the evening, all doors at the FID were closed; a duty officer said nobody had been brought there. But we all saw light in the FID windows which remained glowing until late that night.

Next morning we went to the FID again and they told us the same: "These people are not here." My mother, brother, Sergey Olshevski, Alla Sharko, Sergei Yakupov who had been detained at the time were missing.
They were not at Okrestsina, neither in Zhodino, nor at Valadarskaha, nor at the KGB detention facility – nowhere.
The next day, together with Sergey and Alla's families, we spent searching. It was frightening. Very frightening.

Only on December 23, at about three in the afternoon, I received a call from the FID informing me that my mother and brother had been detained and were at the FID.

I'd like to emphasise that they were officially detained on December 23. And I hadn't known the whereabouts of my relatives for almost 24 hours. I can only suspect that they spent a night at the FID without lawyers.

Then there was Okrestsina detention centre, where we managed to hand over packages. I even had a glance of my mother when she was being taken to the FID for questioning. And late that evening they were taken from the FID to the Detention Centre No. 1 in Valadarskaha St. My mother, brother and their colleagues Sergey and Alla are still there.

They all celebrated New Year in prison. But I could pass a package for them: red fish, small gifts for my mother's cellmates to make it feel like a holiday.
Yuliya Slutskaya
I also experienced a small New Year miracle. We had planned a celebration night and arranged a Secret Santa game. It's a gift exchange game with random assignment of partners where eventually everyone's identity is revealed. So already after everyone had been detained, I received an automatic email saying "Hi! I'm Yuliya Slutskaya and you're my Secret Santa." So I did play Secret Santa after all.

I hand over and keep bringing small gifts. I'm so taken by it that mother asked me, "Stop sending food or I won't be able to leave here because I wouldn't fit through the doorway." Jokes.

But I can't stop because preparing and sending these packages for my mother and brother is my psychotherapy. I keep thinking, "What else tasty I could send them? What would they like to have?"
Each package I send is a sort of “hello” from me because letters don't reach them yet.
I know my mother is thinking rationally and tries not to worry about things she cannot change.

She has seven cellmates. They all are very good women. Yet they all smoke and mother tolerates tobacco smoke badly. I sent her allergy tablets, like she asked.

Also, mother got the upper bunk and it was hard for her to climb up there because of her back. But one of the women exchanged bunks with her. I thank her for that!
"Yuliya SLutskaya spent the evening and night sitting on a chair. She was questioned without her lawyer present“
Anton Gashinsky
Yuliya Slutskaya's and Sergey Olshevski's lawyer
As of today (the interview took place on January 5, 2021 – Editor's note), case files on Yuliya Slutskaya and Sergey Olshevski are at the Central Office of the Investigative Committee where the preliminary investigation is ongoing.

Going back to the beginning of these events, on December 22, 2020 Yuliya Slutskaya was detained at arrival at the National Airport in Minsk. After that, an inspection of the scene of events was performed with her participation. During that inspection, all information media were seized – phones, laptops, plastic cards.
Slutskaya was then taken to the FID building at 17 Kalvaryjskaja St. There she spent the evening and night sitting on a chair. From her words we know that she was constantly questioned without her lawyer present.
After that, in the morning, the procedural detainment of Yuliya Slutskaya was filed. And within several hours, a decision was made to open a criminal case against her for tax evasion under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.

The lawyer was allowed to see her no sooner than December 24. Another questioning followed and later that evening the Deputy General Prosecutor sanctioned pre-trial remand in the form of detention for two months.

On December 28, questioning of all the detainees started. On December 31, a charge was made against Yulia which is, to tell the truth, formal – it contained all the circumstances specified earlier in the order on institution of criminal proceedings.
The preliminary investigative bodies needed it to keep the restrictions and to maintain Yuliya Slutskaya detained until February 23. The conditions and form of detention are the strictest.
Within these two months, the body conducting the preliminary investigation must investigate the criminal case. I suppose investigative measures will be taken with Yuliya's participation. Additional questioning is possible, familiarisation with orders for expert examinations, familiarisation with the expert examination results.

Since the article applies to tax evasion, a tax inspection should be ordered to establish and analyse the circumstances of the alleged tax evasion. The exact amount of such taxes payable to the budget should be determined accordingly.

Speaking about detainment of the other Press Club representatives and the fact that they were officially detained since December 23, I think it is connected with the request to proceed to the Financial Investigations Department on December 22 (when their freedom was restricted). Clearly, they had no alternative.
They went, yet nobody told them under what procedure they had been detained.
There is a small thing that happens in some criminal proceedings: when a person is politely delivered to a security agency and then, after a while, they state that the decision on detainment had in fact been made when the person was already at a preliminary investigative body – at the police, KGB, or Financial Investigations Department.

It is foremost connected with the need to make a decision on the institution of criminal proceedings within 12 hours from the time of detainment, yet a criminal case is not opened at the time. So, should time be counted from the time of Yuliya's detention, a criminal case should not have been opened any later than 22:00 to 23:00 on the 22nd.

And as far as i understand, they failed to do it physically until all the operational and investigative actions (inspections, seizure, confiscation, etc.) had been completed. So they did what they did. We can actually say that the detainees' freedom was restricted immediately before the inspection or after it when they were taken to the Financial Investigations Department. However, legally, it was filed in a different way.

We submitted a complaint regarding this, but received a negative response.

Additionally, a question has arisen several times regarding whether there were 'inspections' or 'searches' conducted at the Press Club office and at its employees' homes. I will explain why it matters, for there is a difference.

A search can only be conducted sanctioned by a prosecutor and only within an ongoing criminal case. If there is no criminal case, it is impossible to conduct a search; an inspection is conducted. The inspection is also different because it is conducted by permission of a legal owner of the premises and in the presence of attesting witnesses. Should such permission not be granted, the inspection can, in exceptional cases, be conducted by the order of a body conducting the criminal proceedings. If this is the case, a prosecutor should be notified within a day about such an event having been conducted. In other words, it is quite an exceptional measure.

In theory, the Press Club employees could have refused inspection at the office and at their homes. But the problem is that the Criminal Code has a provision for that, too. The Press Club is not the owner of the premises it occupies, so I suspect that either the representatives of the owner or the representatives of the building administration were present at the inspection of the Press Club premises.

The same applies to the legal owner of residential premises. If it is a flat in a residential building managed by a housing maintenance service or a condominium, either the housing management service representative is invited or a condominium representative. The event takes place in their presence, so no agreement of the person is required. That's the nuance, that's the trick.
"I asked where my husband was, what had happened to him. But they did not answer"
Yulia Olshevskaya
Sergey Olshevski's wife
It all happened on December 22. I work from home. We could not talk with Sergey on the phone because he was busy. From four to five o'clock I was planning to cook dinner. I saw on the news that something was happening at the Press Club. I started ringing Sergey, but he was not picking up. And then I received a call and they told me about searches at Sergey's colleagues' places. In the next moment, I heard a car approaching our house. I knew it wasn't Sergey; he usually returns from work later. I looked out of the window: it was a van without number plates. People were getting out of it.

We live in a small private house. I saw them running across our yard, evidently to check whether there was a back door. I assumed there was a search about to happen at our house and I was ready. We have nothing to hide.
Sergey Olshevski
There were eight people: six of them were officers, as far as I could tell, and two were attesting witnesses. I did not open the door at once and asked them to give me some time. I rang my father and informed him about our situation, that I would open the door and let these people in to conduct a search. I also rang a lawyer I know for a consultation, but he could not pick up the phone unfortunately.

When I opened the door they showed me their credentials and said they were to conduct an inspection of the site of events. I immediately responded that nothing had happened here and that I did not call for them.
But they just exchanged glances and said it was a search.
I asked what they were looking for exactly at our house. They answered they would inspect my husband's workplace. We have a designated area in our house where a desk, an armchair and a book shelf are – it's where we work.

Those people gave me the order to read and the search started. They searched everywhere. Kitchen, cabinets, shelves; they turned everything upside down. I don't remember my state at that moment, it's all blurry now. The only thing that was worrying me was where my husband was. I asked where he was, what had happened to him, but they did not answer. It was very depressing.

The search ended quite quickly. They seized all our laptops including my working MacBook which does not belong to my husband, nor is it my own, as well as all our bank cards. I told them they were taking all my finances away and that I would not be able to earn and provide for myself in the near future. They responded that it was fine and recommended that I take a vacation. They also asked thoroughly where my husband's bank cards were and his passport. I didn't know that, so I said they should ask him.
Sergey Olshevski
At that time my father-in-law arrived, my husband's father whom I had telephoned. The investigators were leaving. We started thinking what to do next – where to go, who to ring. We rang Sergey, he didn't pick up. Unfortunately, at that time I didn't have Sergey's colleagues' phone numbers. And I was so lost, I did not guess to open Facebook on my phone and write to them. My phone was not seized, they only asked to look through it during the search. They found nothing there, so they gave it back.

So my father-in-law and I decided to go to Minsk. We arrived at the building where the Press Club is located, but security would not let us in and would not answer our questions. Some strangers told us there was a search at the Press Club's office and that the employees had been taken to the Financial Investigations Department, FID. I didn't yet know what that even was.

I called the lawyer I know asking for help. We agreed to meet and he arrived at the FID in Kalvaryjskaja St., too. I was told they were somewhere there. There was light in the windows, but all the doors were closed.
And then there was this uncertainty: where was my husband? What had happened? How was he feeling? Was everything fine?
I understood his colleagues were with him. Their relatives started arriving. I met them and my husband's colleagues. They were just as lost as I was. We didn't know whom to ring, who to go to. We only guessed that our relatives were there. Yet we didn't know why.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, I arrived at the FID again. Parked the car and started looking in the windows, waiting for something. I knew that other relatives were visiting the Internal Affairs departments and directorates looking where they could have been taken. At Okrestsina they were told no such people were there. It was completely unclear where our nearest had spent the night.

Eventually, I managed to enter the FID building in the morning. I was at the foyer on the ground floor. I sat there and waited and it seemed that people passing by paid no attention to me at all.

The lawyer rang me and asked to come to him for a meeting. By that time we already found out that I last talked to my husband at three o'clock on December 22. I rang him at 15:15 which I remember very well, because it's in my phone.
As far as I understand, I should have been informed about my husband being detained within 12 hours. Almost a day had passed and there was no information.
I submitted a complaint eventually to the Office of the General Prosecutor and went there. While I was looking for a place to park, I received a call from an FID investigator informing me that my husband was detained at 10 a.m. on December 23. When I asked where my husband spent the night he said he didn't know.

At the FID we were told they were taken to Okrestsina. I managed to confirm my husband was indeed there. I only didn't know in what state. The same was going on with my husband's colleagues' relatives.

Thank God, I have people to support me. My acquaintance rang me and helped prepare a package to send to my husband at Okrestsina. I knew nothing about what to put in it. We also learned that they accept packages on Thursday mornings. We all try to keep together, like a team.

It is a tough experience. It is hard to speak about it because I haven't yet completely accepted the situation. I can't accept it because I don't know what my husband is there for. Yes, we do read the news, we know what's happening. But our reading the news is not doing any good. For I trust my husband. I and everyone who knows my husband clearly understand that Sergey is not the sort of person to break the law. Everything happening now is completely absurd for us.
Sergey Olshevski
Sergey is a very strong, strong-willed man who believes in people and the law. He is clever and caring. I believe he will make it, and will survive this hard period. His family, we support him: we are waiting for him at home and hope that everything will be resolved soon.

After Sergey was transferred to Valadarskaha detention centre, I only received news of him from his lawyer. Everything I know is that he is in a cell with 15 other men. He is fine, feels good. I hope they have a friendly atmosphere in their cell.

A woman recently contacted me. As far as I understood, her husband is my husband's cellmate. She asked me what I sent my husband in a package. What a situation: just a short while ago, I didn't know what to pack to send and now people ask me for advice. It's the last thing I want, talking about these packages, but I do understand that this is our reality now, and we have to help each other.
"The situation with Sergey Olshevski was quite interesting"
Anton Gashinsky
Yuliya Slutskaya's and Sergey Olshevski's lawyer
Sergey Olshevski was detained on December 22, 2020. At the Press Club office where there was an inspection of the scene of events underway and documents, information media, computers, hard drives, cell phones, etc. were seized. However, it was not filed procedurally as a detention. After the inspection was conducted in his presence, the officers of the Financial Investigations Department asked him to proceed to his home, because he lives outside Minsk.

His wife was at home. They conducted an inspection there and seized cell phones. They also seized bank cards, laptops – both his and his wife's. After that, the Oshevskis managed to inform their lawyer about these activities.

The lawyer headed there but didn't make it in time for the inspection. All the operational and investigative measures had been completed before his arrival. Olshevski was taken to the Financial Investigations Department. Hoping that a lawyer would be allowed to see the detainee and talk to him, they went to the FID building. But nobody came out to see the lawyers, and the building was closed. The lawyers stayed at the Department's building until late at night but nobody invited them to take part in the operational and investigational measures.

And in the meantime, operational measures in the form of questioning were addressed to the detainees including Sergey Olshevski. Both Olshevski and Slutskaya spent the night sitting on a chair. In the morning, after the official detainment was filed for Olshevski, a criminal case was opened. After that, all the detainees including Slutskaya and Olshevski were transported to the detention centre at Okrestsina where they remained until the 24th.

That day, they were transported to the Financial Investigations Department where the lawyers were finally allowed in. The lawyers managed to talk to their clients prior to the questioning and then to take part in the investigational measures.
"I hoped then they would let Petya go"
Yulia Yakubitskaya
Peter Slutsky's fiancee
On the last evening, we were doing a puzzle together with Petya [the affectionate form of Peter – Editor]. He was completely unhappy about the idea, for the process is too slow for him. And if I knew what would happen, I would definitely have offered a different way to spend the evening.

On December 22 I was at work. Everything as usual, no butterflies in my stomach. Petya and I rarely text or ring each other during the day. Maybe once in the evening. I only realised what time it was when Sasha, Petya's sister rang me. For some reason I got worried. Then she said, "Is Petya with you? He's not picking up. Our mother has been detained. There is most likely a search at Press Club."

Shock. For 30 seconds I'm in tears. Then I left.

I first went to Petya's flat. There was nobody there, except for a cat. Then I went to the Press Club, saw the news on my way that journalists were not being allowed inside. I didn't know what to do.
Peter Slutsky
At about 6:30 p.m. Petya's phone was already off. That was it. Nobody knew where they were. I met with Sasha, who had already started sorting things out. But I didn't realise what was happening at all.

The next day we spent searching for our loved ones. I still hoped they would not leave us in the dark. Closer to 3 p.m. the authorities started ringing relatives and informing about the detentions.

I spent almost the whole day with Sasha; it gave me some support, breadcrumbs of information about who might be where. Eventually we found out they were at Okrestsina. I don't remember whether it was the offender detention centre or the detention centre, I remember it was the door on the left.

That was how I got immersed in the "world of packages". It turns out I can't send a package: only the family can. Volunteers helped us with what can and can't be sent and what to include or leave out. I thank them.

We knew they were to bring all our detainees to the FID to question, so we were waiting near Okrestsina. We wanted to see them at least in the car, just a glance. We saw Yuliya [Slutskaya] and others. Petya wasn't there. Then we were at the FID waiting for any information.

At a certain moment some people entered through the back door, and Petya was among them. It was very unexpected. I thought they would not bring him here at all. And suddenly, there he was, standing so close to me I could reach out and touch him. I hoped then they would let Petya go. He is just a cameraman. I believed in this back then.

He managed to say he loved me. It was later that I understood it was the first "I love you". I now joke that to say these words Petya needed to be imprisoned. In our everyday life we said it in other ways. And there, in a situation when time is short, everything is said clearly, in its essence.

We now know where they are, at the Detention Centre No. 1 in Valadarskaha St.
Trips to Valadarskaha become a daily routine. You stop asking where to go, what to do. You can give advice yourself to other relatives who are lost and confused.
Each of my days now ends with writing letters and each morning begins with sending them from the Central Post Office, or at the package receipt room at Valadarskaha.
"Such a strict measure as arrest is seldom applied under this article"
Andrei Sankovich
Peter Slutsky's lawyer
We now know that all the detainees were charged under the article applicable to tax evasion. Peter is considered an accomplice.

Such a strict measure as arrest is seldom applied under this article. I'd say that such a measure requires some solid grounds, exceptional circumstances, such as that a person may abscond during the investigation or trial, or pervert the course of justice.
Usually, if a person intends to compensate the damage caused by any tax evasion, a milder restriction is chosen, such as bail, restriction of travel and house arrest.
As for now, all the damage specified in the documents has been compensated. We intend to apply for the change in the form of custody. I have reason to suppose they might change it for Peter.

I am under non-disclosure obligations so I cannot reveal any details. But I think that the situation will become clearer further in the course of investigation.

The crime in question is not a crime against a person, health or life. Practice shows that the preliminary investigative bodies usually ask the accused at the end of the investigation whether he or she would like to apply for relief from criminal responsibility. Provided that the damages have been paid, such a person can be relieved from criminal responsibility. However, the final decision has to be made by the Pardon Commission at the Administration of the President. Each application is considered individually. But all this applies at the end of the investigation, if guilt is proven and a final charge is made.

As to his present state, he appears fine, feels good both psychologically and physically. He has no complaints about the custodial conditions, the attitude of the administration or his cellmates. On the contrary, he said he has everything he needs including medical assistance. He also shared that he had a chance to sleep enough for the first time in a while. Before that, due to the workload, he didn't have enough time for rest.

Everything goes according to a strict timetable there. Breakfast, dinner, supper. Lights on, lights out. There are walks, but they are not mandatory every day or for everyone. There are books to read and there's a TV in the cell.
"They said it was not a detainment, that we were merely to have a talk"
Mikola Shakel
Alla Sharko's husband
I was present at the detention. We were in our flat. Shortly before that, Alla had fallen ill with suspected COVID. When the symptoms passed and the self-isolation term expired, we started to have walks.

That day, we were about to go for a walk in a park nearby. We heard a strong knock on the door. Repeated, insisting knocking. Let's say, the door was hammered on. Alla looked through the peephole, asked who it was. But it was impossible to hear whether they identified themselves.

They were people in civilian clothes. They were wearing surgical masks like everyone does these days due to COVID. I managed to ring my colleagues and inform them. Alla, too, managed to tell her colleagues.

And when it became obvious the walls were literally crumbling we decided to open the door. Not to wait until the door was broken down. We opened with no resistance at all. I just kept saying, "Please, be careful with my wife. Don't hurt my wife." I was mostly afraid for her.
Alla Sharko
They separated us at once and put in different rooms. Almost the whole time during the inspection I was not allowed there. It was like they considered me as a separate person that should be kept in the kitchen or in some room. So I don't know any details of the inspection, unfortunately. I only asked to be present when they inspected some of my personal belongings in the closet. But soon, when they proceeded with inspecting our joint stuff, they removed me to another room again.

As far as I could hear, the inspection was conducted quite calmly. No shouting or drawers trashed. They said it was not a search, yet they inspected our belongings. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't judge whether it was legally correct.

Nevertheless. they seized my laptop as well, my phone and even old laptops – electronic garbage which you can't finally throw away or give away for spare parts.

When I asked for any document, a copy of resolution or decree or protocol – to have as the owner of the electronics they said, "Your wife has specified everything she wanted in the protocol and signed it, with all the comments and corrections made; and we can't give you any document, for this is not a search."

They also said it was not a detention, that we were merely having a talk. Until the very last moment, I thought that they acted and talked in a way that it was unclear who was to be taken where. I thought I would go with Alla, we would stay together. But they left me in the flat. When I found my keys, she was already taken and gone.
At the very beginning, when I rang my colleagues, I managed to ring the lawyer, too. It turned out, he was nearby, so he could get here fast. But they did not allow him in. There's a video on the internet where you can see he was simply pushed outside the door and the door shut before him.
Later I found out that journalists arrived and were at the landing. And then officers from the District Directorate of Internal Affairs arrived here, too, and asked the journalists to go with them to verify some data. They kept the journalists at the directorate for a while and let them go. It was probably so that the other officers who were in our flat could leave freely and take Alla with them.

At that moment I found myself outside without a phone, without any means of communication. I had a certain understanding of where they were taking my wife because they told me. I went to the FID where I met the lawyer, relatives of other detained colleagues who were also seeking any information at all.

But nothing became clear that day. Nor the next. We kept searching wherever we could. But we were denied information everywhere. Because they allegedly were not at the place they had been taken to. However, most likely they actually were there and spent a night there. I don't know for sure.

I was told they would stay in touch. Since they seized my old phone, I left my new contact details. Yet nobody called at the time. Eventually, at the end of the following day they resurfaced at Okrestsina.
Alla Sharko
I don't have enough words to tell you what she is like, my wife. My beloved, it's the least I can say.

We met not long ago. Several years back, a Media School took place and Alla and I studied there, with Yuliya Slutskaya as one of the coaches. We'd met with Alla before that, too, including at the Press Club's events. But during the Media School we were in one team and real contact occurred. So we started staying in touch.

Then suddenly you realise that this is the person you had given up hope of meeting. But it turns out that there is such a thing as true love, total understanding, a shared wavelength.

Since then we have not parted. It seemed natural to register our relationship. Although it was not about that stamp in the passport. We considered it as a technical addition to the thing that was already obvious. Thank God, we got that stamp. It means I don't have to prove I am Alla's relative.

She is wonderful. She is clever. She is a talented person. As a journalist she specialises in art. She writes a lot about it and she used to write even more. Alla's pieces were printed in specialised journals, and on different popular portals. I hope it will be like that again really soon.

She creates beautiful paintings. She presented her art works at a charitable auction to help people in trouble.

She makes amazing photographs. She photographs a lot, experiments with mobile photography. Her photographs even won prizes in international contests. I'm sure she will continue to participate.

She is an incredible mother. She has raised two children almost by herself and they've become great, talented, independent adults.
I know from the lawyers who were allowed to see Alla that she is worried about us, her family, her children. First of all, she conveyed to us that she wouldn't like us to worry about her: because she is focused and feels fine.
Speaking about the conditions she's in, the lawyer says it's quite tolerable. Naturally, it is not a holiday resort. But they have walks. They said there were six people in a cell for 8, however this is information that might already be outdated. The cellmates were fine people, the lawyer said, and there is good contact between all of them. There are books there, and they read and write a lot. However, they don't accept books from us at the detention centre, even educational textbooks.

Unfortunately, I haven't yet received any letters. Neither did her friends or relatives. I frequently check the mailbox, frequently write. I try to send letters both via registered mail and first class. Just like other relatives, I regularly hand over packages including certain medical items, though I really hope she won't need them.

I now have the feeling as if the greater part of me has been torn apart. It is extremely tough. I think any relative of any person detained for days or imprisoned would understand what I mean.

I want to say a great, huge thank you to those I love, friends, people I know and even people I don't know, who have found me immediately and offered all kinds of help. A great amount of people responded. This support is unimaginable!
Alla Sharko
I tell everyone, family and friends, to be constructive. It is hard to speak about being positive. But the most important thing is to keep one's spirits up. We need to act, to do everything we can to improve things. So that the people who find themselves in this situation, the relatives of detainees, feel supported, feel that they are not alone. So I ask everyone: write, write, write. Write as often as possible, even about your daily routine. It is of utmost importance because they have very few means of communicating with the outside world. They really need our letters!
Address for letters and postcards: SIZO-1, 2 Volodarskogo St., Minsk, 220030. First class, registered mail with notification. Please insert a return envelope with a stamp.

For:
· Yuliya Slutskaya, 15.09.1964
· Sergey Olshevski, 15.05.1984
· Alla Sharko, 24.08.1977
· Peter Slutsky, 10.11.1991

You can also send letters via online services: письмо.бел or vkletochku.org