It's impossible to deal with Olga Pavlova. It is difficult to talk to her even for an outsider, a benevolent observer: she recounts and explains one episode after another – about her struggle, about her desperate attempts to shake the dictatorial order with complaints and petty sabotage. Her efforts are like trying to repair or dismantle a tank, a concrete bunker, or even an aircraft carrier with a watch screwdriver.
Even her cellmates on Okrestina Street, having gotten used to the conditions and to breathing in the constant stench of cell #18, told her: “Olya, that's enough, stop it. You’re only angering the guards, and you’re not making any of this easier." That’s what they said when they were scared and wanted to hide, but now they talk about Olga Pavlova with the utmost respect, even pride. They were arrested with Olga Pavlova herself, not everyone is that lucky.
She was the only one who managed to dismantle the prison. Of course, Olga only destroyed a little bit of the prison - she unscrewed the screw on the window and managed to crack the window by an inch to allow some air into the cramped cell. She dismantled two centimeters of the prison when others could not shake it by even a millimeter, but she did.
She was also the only one who spoke to her tormentors from a position of strength - or rather, from the perspective of the law. When talking to the investigator she said: “Introduce yourself! I will answer all of your questions, but only after you tell me your name, surname, title, and position." When talking to the prison guards she said: “Look, I’ve gotten some match heads wet. Now I have ink. And I’ve found a scrap of paper. I will write down each of your names, and when I get out of here, I will submit a criminal complaint to the Investigative Committee not about all of you as a collective, but about every single one of you individually."
“Olya, stop it, you're only making it worse for all of us,” her cellmates said. But the jailers were somewhat shocked by her behavior. The same kind of shock a huge dog experiences when it corners a cat that continues to desperately hiss and bare its fangs.
After her release, Olga Pavlova filed complaint after complaint and dreamed of returning to the prison on Okrestina Street. That wasn’t hard to arrange. On the day of yet another massive protest, Olga was detained, again. She was detained in a café for the crime of drinking a cinnamon cappuccino. Unsurprisingly, they filled the police report with some outlandish story and she was once again led down the familiar corridor. There Olga met him, Zhenya the sadist, a jailer. Passing by him, Olga shouted:
– I remember you! You were brutalizing people in August. We have all filed complaints against you. And Olesya S. sends her regards, because Olesya has sued you in an international court.
Olga wondered if that one remark was worth going to prison again. Even more so, whether it was worth a 17-day stint in solitary confinement, but the deed was done. The solitary cell was two and a half meters long by two meters wide. The bunk was lifted and attached to the wall each morning and wasn’t lowered until lights out. She could only sit on a concrete stool wrought with iron. This was in late autumn, so the stool was ice-cold. But Olga did not regret a thing.
In the intervals between her imprisonments (before August 2020 and after) Olga Pavlova made many small-scale local attempts to restore the rule of law in her country. The country, through its official representatives, police officers, and investigators, saw these attempts, however small, as sabotage.
In one case, Olga Pavlova found that ballots signed by people with disabilities were destroyed when the signature was made illegible by the voter’s poor vision or tremors in their hands. In response, Olga wrote a formal appeal to the guarantor of the Constitution, President Lukashenko, demanding that he ensure the right of disabled people to vote. The appeal was signed by eight thousand people. When the president (who was supposed to respond to collective appeals personally) did not answer, Olga turned to the Ministry of Defense and demanded that the president be removed from power for failing to protect the constitutional rights of his nation’s citizens. The Ministry of Defense responded with a letter mocking her. At that point they still laughed at Olga - in line with Gandhi’s formula: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". They laughed at Olga then, and from August 2020, they began to beat and pummel her.
Following that response, Olga sent her military ID to the local military enlistment office, wrote a letter of resignation, and posted a video message to social media. In that video she declared that she was resigning as a medical officer and no longer considers herself as part of the army, because they do not protect the people.
For that, Olga was once again arrested.
After she was released yet again, Olga Pavlova participated in the creation of the Collegial Bodies of Territorial Public Self-Government - KOTOS. KOTOS is the self-government of apartment blocks and yards, a vehicle for the organization of neighbors in the hope that if law and democracy reign in every yard, they will reign throughout the country. Olga Pavlova received four months in prison for KOTOS. She was also a part of the "Country for Living" organization, which was known for picketing, complaining to the Investigative Committee, and petitioning the courts.
On the basis of all of her so-called crimes, Olga Pavlova was sentenced to three years of “home chemistry”, that is, a form of house arrest with limited liberties and constant surveillance,even having to appear at her local police precinct for lectures on morality and proper conduct. The moment Olga slipped up, she would have to serve out the rest of her sentence in a prison camp.
The police officers did everything they could to force Olga to break the rules. They came by her apartment at night so that she wouldn’t open the door and thereby show insubordination. They tried to lure her out of the house after 7 pm (the curfew for a person serving a “chemistry” sentence). But Olga was looking for trouble herself - she was interviewed by anyone and everyone and continued to file ever more inventive complaints. One day she walked into the police station for another check-in and brought her poetry. Poems of protest - she’s impossible to deal with, she really is! The police officers decided that distributing protest poetry would count as a picket. They opened a new criminal case against Olga, so that this time, she will definitely go to prison.
The next day, Olga Pavlova disappeared. Her friends and relatives thought that she was covertly captured and taken to prison. That can happen in Belarus.
But in reality, Olga fled. For several days she hid in safe houses where, in order to not to be overheard, they talked about all sorts of nonsense like a football championship. In reality they communicated and planned through writing, passing a sheet of paper back and forth before ultimately destroying it. Olga was silently shown a point on a map where she could cross the border. She was provided with a GPS and teamed up with a companion to help her escape. Someone else gathered up clothes and food for the trip. Another person secretly drove her to the border.
At night, Olga and her companion, with the help of the GPS, walked through a forest and crossed the Lithuanian border. She did not have a visa, but the Lithuanian border guards met Olga with somber understanding.