Roman Sushchenko, Ukrinform correspondent, political prisoner in Russia
A year later I sin with restrained optimism: D-day will come and the door will open
02.10.2017 17:00

When you interview a fellow journalist, and even a colleague, you feel some awkwardness. Well, it's like showing tricks to another magician. However, here the circumstances are such that it does not seem strange.

Answering questions, Roman is sarcastic or wise, sometimes angry, and sometimes kind. And when there is an opportunity, he is witty. That is, it is felt that the person has returned to habitual business with pleasure. It just happened so that he is temporarily on the other side of the interviewer-interviewee line...

I passed my questions to Sushchenko's lawyer. In return I received the sheets covered with his easily readable handwriting. And the legal postscript "The words written down by Mark Feygin." What is still curious, Roman answers cumbersome long questions, which are natural with similar correspondence interviews, so that they are then conveniently divided into a more detailed conversation. Well, as if we are sitting next to each other, and our conversation is being recorded. Thank you, colleague!

Q: You have been imprisoned for almost a year. Which day was remembered most of all?

A: I remember well the morning of October 1 last year, which I spent in detention center No. 1 of the Interior Ministry's main office in Moscow. I was forced to spend a night in this police detention center, in which I arrived at three o'clock in the morning. Despite the snoring of my neighbors, I instantly fell asleep due to an excess of impressions. The awakening was lightning-fast – precisely at six o'clock under the melody of the USSR anthem. The choir sang a verse about Russia at full volume. With the first sounds a thought came to my mind: "Here it is - the bottom." A year later I sin with restrained optimism. I learned to believe that everything will pass, D-day will come, the door will open, and I will make a step outside...

Q: How do you celebrate family holidays, Christmas, Easter, Ukraine's Independence Day in Lefortovo?

A: Personal, family, national, and religious holidays are not celebrated here. My head is not occupied with cares about preparing a holiday table, shopping lists, making up menus, recipes for desserts, a wine list, seating for invited and uninvited guests. Although with a glass of juice and making telegrams (being sent with a huge delay), of course, I remembered the birthdays of relatives and other holidays. I will note that several times the patriarch (secular name Gundyaev) congratulated the prisoners on church holidays with a set of exercise books, a pen, a pairs of socks, and a bar of Alyonushka chocolate.

Q: Why did you choose French from foreign languages, but not English - the world language of communication?

A: I did not have to choose a foreign language. A class teacher did it for me - according to the class list. Classmates with uneven numbers started learning the English alphabet, while those with even numbers had to learn French. I started to learn the world English language later, in adulthood.

Q: Who in classical or modern French literature is the most interesting to you?

A: Remembering the things of the French literary heritage, I especially note Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. I plan to read the secret memories of the personal valet of Napoleon the First – Louis Constant Wairy. Entertaining reading.

Q: While in prison, you made impressive drawings of Paris and Geneva, in an unusual, "prison" technique (a ballpoint pen plus onion husks).

A: I did not have to choose the drawing technique for a long time. In prison, it is forbidden to use paint, markers, pastels, color pencils, and erasers. It is allowed to use only a ballpoint pen of black and blue colors, and a pencil. I had to erase slate sketches with the help of shoes with rubber soles. Onion husks are an invention of my own (thinking about a patent). It is inspired by childhood memories. In this way, my grandmother and I changed the color of Easter eggs.

Q: Will you continue to this series? Which cities will you draw?

- A series of urban landscapes continues. On the road to you are Saint-Malo, Perugia, Chicago, and Parma. Next in line is Lisbon. The day you see my works depends on Russian Post and censorship. Saint-Malo was given for sending in May.

Q: Do you have any favorite artists? Which? Why?

A: I have many favorites among painters. When I was young, I adored and copied the king of surrealism, Salvador Dali. I presented a few works as a gift to my friends, and one was made on order... I am thrilled with the masterpieces of the French impressionists. The works by Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Signac, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec impress me. I had a chance to see the originals at the Musee d'Orsay, next to our bureau in Paris. Gustave Courbet hypnotized me. I visited the gardens of Claude Monet in Giverny. My friend, a Frenchman, a former Odesa citizen, collector Marc Ivasilevitch, opened to me one of the creators of the so-called "Lianozovo Group" of Oscar Rabin.

From the contemporaries I adore the work of my compatriots – Serhiy Vilhanovsky and Dmytro Sevriukov. All of them differ in technique, expressive manner, palette, images, and plots. Their works are attracted by magnetism, energy; and their lives by brightness and drama. In general, our land is rich in talents. I admire the creativity of the founder of Ukrainian primitivism, Maria Prymachenko, the individual works of our countryman Andriy Vorkhola, known as Andrew Warhola, and the photographs of Vasylyev.

Q: You are a man of Ukrainian culture. Which works of Ukrainian artists do you recall most often - from what sphere (literature, painting, cinema, theater, architecture, and music), classics, contemporaries?

A: While in prison I opened Franko in a new way. I miss Eneida by Kotlyarevsky. Through their musical and solo skills I was captivated by conductor Kirill Karabits, singers Volodymyr Yemets and the deceased Vasyl Slipak. The unconditional authority of the theatrical stage - Anatoliy Khostikoyev, Bohdan Beniuk and the Sumska sisters. I was struck by the plastic art of "Ukrainian Michelangelo" - Johann Georg Pinsel. His sculptures were exhibited at the Louvre for the first time in Ukraine's history.

Q: Which Ukrainian cultural worker or artist would you like to interview, which question would you ask?

A: I would gladly have interviewed Kotlyarevsky. I would have asked him: what kind of women and wines the author preferred, while creating a genius epic masterpiece.

Q: When you said about the popularity of Shantaram, a cult novel by Gregory Roberts, in the detention center, the writer commented on your words. Can you tell us more about the triumph of this book in prison?

A: It is difficult to overestimate the popularity of Shantaram here. This book was praised by my first neighbor who lived in Lefortovo for a year, studying literary preferences. At first I was skeptical. And there was a queue for this book. But my friend gave it to me - a coincidence. I was in no hurry to read it, as it was thick. The interest grew after an unsuccessful attempt by my next neighbor to send it home in a parcel... It seems to me that the book captivates readers with the brightness of presentation, sincerity, the truthfulness of life, deep and simultaneously naive simplicity of philosophical reflections, trivial truths and feelings. I was struck by the lines about those who determine global policy and unleash wars. Roberts' sentences are relevant today as never before. I listened to the advice of the author: the only victory you can win in prison is to survive, not just prolong your life, but also keep the strength of the spirit, will and heart. Respect to Gregory for the secret of the hat Borsalino (an Italian firm that has produced hats since the middle of the 19th century).

Q: Maybe you would like to say something else to the writer, ask him about something?

A: If you can tell him that he did not just write about what he knew, but he knew what he was writing about. Bravo!

Q: You declared yourself as a believing Christian and parishioner of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate? Do you have any of the most memorable lines in the Bible, the Gospel?

A: I think that relations with God are an intimate affair. In some moments of being, I ask the forces to endure the fatigue of the coming day and events throughout it, while in moments of despair - to be guided by the will and be taught faith, hope, patience, forgiveness, and love.

Q: Are you able to forgive, as Christianity teaches?

A: I think that if humanity could not forgive, it would quickly destroy itself in an uninterrupted vendetta. The ability to forgive is a gift. Without it, there would be no history, art and love. Many historical events, masterpieces of art, acts of love, in a certain sense, are appeals to forgive. We live, because we know how to love, but we love, because we know how to forgive.

Q: You are a journalist forcibly deprived of your favorite profession. What questions could you ask yourself?

A: I think that journalist Sushchenko would ask political prisoner Sushchenko about a conversation with himself... Are there any signs of schizophrenia? I answer. Specialists of the Serbsky Institute consider the latter quite sane (a psychiatric examination is envisaged for suspects).

Oleh Kudrin, Riga.

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