Lena A. was the one who talked the most about how scared she was. Or maybe, she was simply the least ashamed of talking about fear. A courageous person is not one who does not know fear. Only a fool does not know fear. A courageous person is one who defies their fear and acts in spite of it.
Lena was arrested for the simple fact that she worked as an election observer and dared to argue with the head of the election commission for her right to observe, to watch the voting with her own eyes and not sit on a chair in the schoolyard of her childhood school, temporarily converted into a polling station, and count how many of her neighbors came to vote... The main feeling that Lena experienced in the police van after the arrest was anger, irritation: what kind of crap is this, they kicked me out of the polling station! On the eve of the election, when voting had barely started and only those who wanted to vote early were going to the polling station. This anger, if you dig deeper, was also rooted in fear, mixed with a kind of schoolgirl perfectionism - she failed an important task, she could not ensure the transparency of elections, which (as they teach future economists and political scientists like Lena at her university) is the only thing keeping democracy and the rule of law afloat . You got an F Lena, sit down.
After some time, when the punitive machine had swallowed Lena and began to slowly chew (she was searched and photographed, her things were confiscated and described), Lena realized that democracy and the rule of law are an illusion in her head, but the punitive machine really exists. It was then that pure fear became her main feeling, fierce, unadulterated, no longer pretending to be mere irritation.
Despite the fear, Lena acted in accordance with the situation. She was the only one of the prisoners of cell #18 who managed to get a lawyer present at her trial. But after every minute of the proceedings (out of seven minutes in total), the fear grew stronger, because Lena saw how none of the lawyer's arguments were taken into account by the judge. It turned out that the presence of a lawyer was unimportant: no one listened to him anyway. It didn’t matter whether she filed any formal petitions, the court always rejected them. There is no point in inviting witnesses in your defense - they simply will not be called and heard.
Then Lena resorted to the last and most desperate argument since Roman law - the argumentum ad hominem, an appeal to humanity. Lena began to cry and explain what a diligent student she is, how she wanted to become an observer and help the election proceed in full accordance with everything she had learned, well, yes, I was probably a little harsh with the head of the commission, and I partially admit that, but I did it out of eagerness, I’m sorry, impose a fine, please.
–If you’re such a good girl, why are you behaving so badly? - the judge interrupted Lena.
–How so? - Lena couldn’t find other words.
Instead of an explanation, she received a short remark:
That moment, the fear fully consumed Lena. You cannot explain anything to them. They don't listen. They do not take into account the fact that they have people in front of them, even criminals in their eyes, but still people. You cannot anticipate their actions. The degree of their cruelty is unimaginable. They can do anything, just because they can.
The rest of her experience of imprisonment only convinced Lena of the accuracy of these terrible conclusions. The guards were able to not feed them - so they didn’t. (Lena was the only one who had a small food parcel delivered by her mother in the courtroom, and that’s what the entire cell ate.) They could beat them - and they did. They could push 36 people into a four-person cell - so they did.
Therefore, when on the third day Lena was taken to the prison yard and forced to face the wall in front of the machine gunners, Lena thought that they would start shooting. They could - so why not gun her down?
And when they were transported to the prison in Zhodino and taken into the shower room, Lena thought it was a gas chamber and that the gas would be pumped in at any moment. If they could allow the sadistic warden to beat the detainees within an inch of their life, then why can't they fill a room with gas to kill them outright?
When Lena was being released from prison, she was afraid to fall. Her contact lenses were taken away from her, she almost couldn't see the steps beneath her feet. She was afraid to fall, not because she would hurt her knee, but because she would be punished for the fall and the wardens would not let her go. They would detain her for an indefinite period, after all, they can do whatever they want, right?
At the prison gates, Lena was greeted by her parents, but the fear did not recede. Her father had a small white and red flag on his car’s windshield - a symbol of resistance? Take it off, take it off, they’ll see, they’ll arrest you. Her father removed the flag, and Lena did not even think, but felt, that her dad had hung this flag to show love and respect for her, and then, he was removing it out of that same love for her. In general, her relationship with her parents somehow became stronger after prison, it acquired a new, much deeper meaning than before. But her parents could not protect her from fear.
“Footsteps on the stairs? They’re coming for me.”
200 thousand people went out to the protest, I’ll certainly be among the first ones out of these 200 thousand to be found and arrested.
But Lena continued to attend these protests, despite her fear. After some time, Lena emigrated. First to Ukraine, then to Poland. The fear did not recede in Ukraine nor in Poland. After the extreme crampedness she experienced in prison, Lena was afraid of confined spaces - buses, railway cars, and elevators. After the meaningless cruelty she experienced in prison, she was afraid of people in uniform. People in any uniform - Ukrainian or Polish police officers, soldiers, hotel doormen, postmen.
She emigrated because, despite her fear, she continued to engage in social and human rights activities at her university, and the university administration quietly submitted accusations and handed over to police officers those students who went out to protest or even those who explained to their classmates what legal rights they had.
Living in exile, Lena continues to participate in the work of this student human rights committee despite her fear. Lena hopes that one day the committee will become an official body of student government at the university.
Maybe then the fear will recede.