The last heroine of our project, and the only one to survive the hell of imprisonment, is Nadezhda (her name means "Hope" in Russian). She is now on anesthetics. Doctors removed both her breasts, but it was too late - her cancer had already metastasized. Nadezhda shared her story with us, in the hope that it can help other female prisoners stricken with cancer – sisters in destiny – to overcome their difficulties.
This project`s author, Leonid Agafonov, journalist Natalia Donskova, and cameraman Tatyana Komissarova visited Nadezhda and her family. We were treated like members of the family by people living in a humble house, in a village called Kurovitsy in Leningradskaya oblast. Our heroine`s family got a holiday table ready for us: tea, coffee, fruits, and sweets. We were met by Nadezhda, her daughter Katya and her husband, and Nadezhas's granddaughter Ornella.

Without help from concerned people, this family might not be able to get together. Nadezhda, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison and who was subsequently diagnosed with cancer, would not have lived to the day of her release. The ex-prisoner still thanks Leonid Agafonov, human rights activist and author of "Woman. Jail. Society", and Vitaly Cherkasov, the attorney who represented Nadezhda in court. Thanks to their work, the court agreed to release Nadezhda on appeal in 2016 for health reasons after three years of imprisonment (from March 2013 through May 2016).
Sentence. Diagnose. Waiting
Nadezhda was sentenced to 12 years. After being sent to the remand center, she started to feel pain in her chest. To finally be examined by a doctor, she had to beg, wait, and lie- just as everyone does there. To see a doctor, the women must wait several months - during this time, a disease may make significant progress. That is what happened to Nadezhda.

Nadezhda: "I found a lump in my breast, so I wrote to take me out to a doctor. I am poorly-educated myself, so my fellow girls helped me to write this request. They wrote that I had a fever to add some urgency. Nevertheless, I had to wait for 1.5 months to be taken out to a general practitioner. She referred me to a surgeon, so I waited another month. Then I was sent to do tests, which I waited another two months. I finally passed the tests for histology. In two weeks, it has shown to be cancer. Stage IV, already."

Katya, Nadezhda`s daughter: "So much grief in these three years. My mom was held in "Arsenalka" [a remand center №5 for women in St. Petersburg]. If you bring a food parcel… so, she had a birthday. You bring chocolate so they will not slice it and cut the pieces off. You give good food, but they crumb it in front of your eyes. And you worry about every single piece of bread. You want to make sure your mom is fed and that she does not need anything, you know. But they gut it in front of your eyes, as if for rats, as if for dogs. Mom was in "Arsenalka" a year and a month, there were 22 women in a room, unbearable heat. I brought a fan, but it didn`t help, so they used wet towels and were lying on the floor. Also, "shmons" [a slang word for "raids"] regularly... People don`t have access to ventilation, no access to breathable air, and on top of that, everybody smokes. When mom was sentenced to 12 years – it was infinity. I thought 'this is it, she will die there.' At this time I didn`t even know she would be diagnosed with cancer".

Больница имении Гааза.
The Dr. Friedrich Joseph Haass Hospital
Надежда попала в больницу имени Гааза. Там больные завидуют тем, кто выходит. Нет, не домой-обратно в зону. Говорят, в зоне и прогулки, и для сохранивших остатки сил работа с общением в отряде. А здесь, в тюремной больнице, вся жизнь на маленьком квадратике с четырьмя двухъярусными кроватями.
Nadezhda was sent to Dr. Friedrich Joseph Haass Hospital, one of the medical facilities of Federal Prison Service located in Saint-Petersburg. The patients at the hospital are jealous of those who leave. They are jealous not of those who leave to go home, but back to the penitentiary. They say that, in the pen there are walks outside, and for those who have some energy left, work where you can even chat within a unit. But in the prison hospital, all life goes by in a tiny square with the four bunk beds.

Nadezhda: "No, a walk is not allowed [at Dr. Friedrich Joseph Haass Hospital]. The first time I spent ten months there in 2014, my time was all spent in a room with no air. Just imagine, when I left it, on the loose [to the colony], it hit me… It was February, my immunity is low after the surgery, no breasts already. It hurts all over. You are not allowed to do anything, so I got sick immediately. They had a doctor there, such a nice man. He prescribed antibiotics, I had an inflammation of my bronchi".

Nadezhda: "In Dr. Haass Hospital, death is everywhere. A ghost walks there. Everyone dying sees him, I swear. A tall fella. I think that this is him, Dr. Haass himself [Dr. Haas worked in Moscow in the 19th century and is profoundly known for his work to humanize the prison system. In 2018, the Catholic Church officially canonized him as a saint]. As soon as the ghost appears in the doorway, it means that somebody will soon die. So, for instance, we are standing, and a ghost walks in. Where? And then somebody dies next morning in the room. I was even telling Katya on the phone. There is no luck to anybody there, just death – both to men and women. It is such a rare case if someone leaves this place alive and unharmed. When you are in the prison hospital you see human fear every day. You were talking to your roommate one day, and the next day she is gone. I don`t know how to explain this; it is as if you are losing something as if you are ripped out of something, it is indescribable. Young women, leaving families behind, it is so hard."

Transfer Me, Please
Nadezhda had the first surgery. Then cancer came back. After her second surgery she couldn`t bear it anymore and asked to be transferred back to the colony.

Nadezhda: "The doctor said that they confirmed that it is stage IV and they can release me so I return home. They cut me again, I almost died. Recovered a little bit. They took care of me, put me back on my feet. I got to court but the court declined my request. Can you imagine? I wept buckets. I lost hope. It was so scary. No treatment at all. What should I stay in this hospital for? I`ll better go back to the pen, there at least I can walk outside, in fresh air! Compared to a sitting in this hospital ward: just four walls. So I said: 'Please, transfer me. I have nothing to do here anyway!' So they did, and I left. And seven months after I was home [Nadezhda was released by a second instance court].

Katya, Nadezhda`s daughter: "I was standing and holding my child, and my friend has recently been to a church and brought an icon with Mother Matrona. I looked at the Saint`s face and said: 'God, help!' And that was the moment I felt hope for Mom`s release for the first time. Then I received a call from a husband: 'Mom is released.' I said: 'You are kidding.' I couldn't believe it until he swore it was true. Vitaly Cherkasov confirmed: 'Yes, they released her.' I became hysterical, as if she died. I started to call everybody and to cry out loud, so much that it could be heard on the street. Everyone asked: 'What happened?' I was saying: 'Mom is released!'"

Nadezhda: "I am calling home. 'What happened?' Katya is screaming: 'You are released!' I said: 'What???' And started to shout myself: 'I am released!!!!' All screaming, all cheering. Such chaos. All three floors, all units were happy for me. Great gratitude to Leonid and an attorney Vitaly Cherkasov – to the end of my life.
While Nadezhda was serving her sentence, Katya gave birth to a daughter. Katya says it was hard without her mother nearby. But now the child's grandmother is released… Nadezhda was even able to attend her daughter's wedding, and is now happy she can spend time with her granddaughter. Little Ornella is crazy about her grandmother; she is following her to sit on her knees, to chat, and to ask for cherries. She's not leaving Nadezhda's side.
Sentence is Over, a Punishment Continues…

Our heroine currently gets treatment in Saint-Petersburg. She lives near her family, and she does not complain. She gets just a little bit upset when her disability pension arrives. A part of it is automatically deducted to pay for the fine of 200,000 RUR, an additional punishment along with the conviction. These funds could go for much needed medicines.

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Translator: Marina
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