Yesterday, on 16 May, it was two years to the day since Ukrainian activist Oleksandr Kolchenko nicknamed Tundra was detained in Crimea by the Russian security service. Despite being a left-wing and anti-fascist warrior, Kolchenko, along with another pro-Ukrainian activist, renowned film director Oleh Sentsov, was accused of being a "Pravyi Sektor terrorist" on a political show trial staged by the Russian authorities. He was convicted to 10 years of prison. Ukraine demands release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia, including Kolchenko. Recently, Kolchenko and Sentsov filled in the papers required for prisoner transfer to Ukraine; however, the prospects of the latter remain unclear. We publish Kolchenko's latest interview for TSN.ua
Oleksandr Kolchenko, convicted by Russian court, tells about the everyday life in colony, his relations with the administration, communication with his mother and his soon release
Oleksandr Kolchenko, a 26-year-old native of Simferopol, is almost always recalled with the Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov. Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) accused them of setting fire to the offices of "United Russia" and "Russian Community of Crimea" in Simferopol, and in the preparation of carrying out explosions of the Eternal Flame memorial and Lenin monument.
The attacks allegedly were supposed to take place in May 2014. During the trial, which has been actively covered by Ukrainian media, Crimeans were kept in the same "cage." Sentsov, as the organizer, has received 20 years of colony, and Kolchenko has got 10 years.
Sentsov became the symbol of the illegal persecution of Ukrainians in Russia, while Kolchenko did not become that known. He graduated from college with a degree in "Tourism manager" and worked as a loader at the post office and printing. Because of his anti-fascist views he faced numerous attacks, which were conducted by Crimean neo-Nazis. He participated in different students’ and environmental campaigns.
In March of this year, Kolchenko was transferred to a penal colony №6, Kopeysk, Chelyabinsk region. Thanks to the Russian human rights activists, TSN.ua managed to interview Oleksandr. Here you can find out how he lives in the colony, how he communicates with other prisoners, and what are his plans on coming back.
Tell us about your life in the colony. What is the schedule?
Well, I get up and go for a breakfast in the dining room. Everything is good with our nutrition. Buckwheat or barley, tea, bread. We do not have meat or fish for breakfast. We eat pea soup (or borshch) for lunch, some fish and potatoes or porridge with meat. For dinner, we have some kind of porridge with meat or potatoes and fish. Portions are big enough, but I also eat some food from the parcels. Local comrades, Chelyabinsk anarchists, send me the parcels. There is an opportunity to get bigger portions due to you height, but I have not applied for it yet.
After the breakfast I come back to my cell and snooze until 10-11 AM. After that I read a while, then have lunch. In the afternoon I sleep again, then read again. Sometimes I go for a visit to the other units of the prison. I have made some friends from the other units. Currently, I am reading The Plague by Albert Camus. I just cannot finish it.
Do you get along with fellow inmates? What do they know, what do they think about what is happening in Ukraine? What is their attitude towards your case?
I have normal relations with my cellmates, we do not have conflicts. Their opinion on what is happening in Ukraine is mainly based on what they see in the news. They are joking about my case. Why not the Kremlin, they ask?
Your name was added to the list of extremists. Now you have to go through the preventive educational work. How does this look like?
To be frank, I have never heard about this preventive work. Maybe their attention on me is more sharp, but no any work is not carried out.
How does the administration treat you?
Well, I am treated like all others. Sometimes they call me for a conversation. Yesterday they offered me a job. I refused. I do not want to work for free. I have talked with the guys here, I know how they pay here. Here we have sawmill, joiner, garage; plastic products are manufactured here.
Do you have at least some communication channel with the rest of the guys who have been convicted in your case? If yes, what is happening to them?
I do not have any communication channels with them. Sometimes in prisons we came together with Oleg (Sentsov - Ed.) I know that he went to Yakutsk. I know that (Gennady) Afanasiev (another prisoner on the case of Sentsov and Kolchenko; sentenced to seven years - Ed.) is in Komi. Recently I have talked to my mom via the pay phone. She often communicates with the mother of Afanasyev. My mother is going to visit me in May.
Russian Ministry of Justice instructed the Federal Penitentiary Service to prepare the necessary documents for the extradition of convicted Ukrainians. Have you heard about this? Do you think that this option is more real than your exchange?
Now I am summoned to a special department. There were three applications, I ask to send me to Ukraine to serve my sentence. I have seen all the legal and procedural consequences. I wrote those appeals on April 8. As far as I understand, the exchange is 100% actual. If we are send, legally it will be processed as sending to the serving of punishment [in Ukraine]. The issue of the citizenship is not clear yet. The points is to have the nationality of the country of extradition. They have printed a Russian passport for me, but I have not received it yet. I have my Ukrainian passport.
Why do they prosecute you, not somebody else?
There was no more evidence than against others. The connection with the "Pravyi sektor" is not proven. I just participated in the arson, as well as Alexey Chirniy (sentenced to seven years - Ed.), who offered to blow up a statue of Lenin. My words are based on the video, which was included into the criminal case. Proceeding from it, it can be concluded that he had nothing in common with the "Pravyi sektor", but was merely sympathetic to their ideas and wanted to communicate with them. I did not participate in the same action with him, but it was enough.
Do you know well all the other prisoners, involved in your case?
Before the detention, I have met Sentsov and Afanasiev for some several times, and did not keep in touch with them. I have got acquainted with Oleg in prison, during out transfer from Lefortovo. We had a mutual friend; she worked as his assistant. She told me of him, about his films.
Do you feel the support from Ukraine here in Russian prison?
Yes, I do. I receive many letters, cards from Ukraine. In Rostov, consuls regularly visited me. But often they were not allowed to come, the sentence was voiced 25 August, and the consul was able to come after 3 months. I would like to tell the Ukrainians not to give up, to continue their fight for free Ukraine "without slaves and without masters." I wish Donbas conflict ended soon.