Each passing year presents increasing challenges in sustaining support for political prisoners. Authorities employ various tactics to undermine the solidarity among Belarusians and obstruct avenues for aiding those who are behind bars. Nevertheless, the list of those who need to be reminded that they are not left alone within the repressive system expands with each passing week. With thousands of Belarusians scattered all over the world, Viasna has compiled a list of ways to support and cheer up political prisoners from abroad.
Political prisoners can be supported with a real gift: a parcel with sweets and pleasant knick-knacks. These parcels can be sent to prisoners held in pre-trial detention, provided their sentences have not yet taken effect. The inclusion of a description of contents in any form is essential. There is no need to coordinate parcels with relatives of a political prisoner, but if you are in touch, then you can find out what that person loves.
The limits on parcel quantity and weight are not explicitly specified, except those imposed by post offices. It’s important to note that there are exceptions for prisoners in the Brest pre-trial detention center No. 7 and for some prisoners of the Baranavichy pre-trial detention center No. 6. It’s advisable to be aware of any unique restrictions or guidelines imposed by respective detention centers.
What am I allowed to put into a parcel?
Parcels are subject to the same restrictions as care packages, with some additional limitations. For example, you cannot put perishable products in a parcel. There is a list of items that detainees can receive in parcels. Here are some of them:
- zefir, candies, marmalade, fruit leather, halva, chocolate;
- instant mashed potatoes, instant pasta, instant soup, cereals (buckwheat, oatmeal);
- dried meat, sausages (dried, smoked);
- any coffee, loose-leaf tea;
- nuts, dried apricots, dates, candied fruits;
- cookies, rusks;
- warm socks;
- envelopes, sheets of paper, postcards, notebooks;
- colored pencils, felt-tip pens, and ballpoint pens (red ones are prohibited).
Some detention cells are cold, so it is worth sending warm clothes to a prisoner. Items like warm wool socks, with the added touch of interesting and colorful patterns, can help prisoners feel better.
While personal hygiene products may pose some challenges, it is still possible to include items like fragrant soap, hand cream, and chapstick in your parcels. Additionally, consider sending packages with empty envelopes, beautiful postcards, paper, pens, and stickers, so that prisoners can congratulate their relatives and friends on holidays.
Parcels can not contain prunes, raisins, sunflower seeds, gozinaki, herbs, pomelo and grapefruits, Chinese cabbage, salt, books, magazines, crosswords, watercolors, reusable shaving machines, safety scissors, scarves, wet wipes, cotton buds, lighters, and plastic dishes.
What are the restrictions for parcels from abroad?
There is a weight limit of 31 kilograms for a single parcel from abroad, and its value should not exceed 1,000 euros. It is advised to send smaller parcels with values ranging between 30–40 euros. When at the post office, you will be required to fill out a form and provide a detailed list of contents along with their respective values. Please keep in mind that a parcel may take approximately 5–6 weeks to reach its destination.
How to pack your parcel?
Before sending items, remove factory packaging, cut off labels, and place food in clear transparent bags. The cooking instructions and the name of the product can be cut out and put in a bag. If possible, write a list of parcel contents in Russian or Belarusian. At a post office, you can choose a box of the size that suits you, or use your own. Make sure that the political prisoner’s info, including a patronymic name and a prison address, is clearly written.
Usually, a parcel can be tracked using the barcode provided at the post office. This way, you can be assured that the parcel was not lost and successfully reached the intended prisoner.
Imagine the incredible gratitude and joy of the person who receives your parcel! This is a sign that they have not been forgotten, a sign of support and faith in free Belarus.
In all places of detention of our political prisoners, letters remain the main means of communication. With the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, correspondence with Belarusian prisoners is heavily blocked, yet some messages still manage to reach the recipients. When writing to a penal colony, it’s advisable to use registered letters. You can also send empty postcards. This increases the probability that they will be delivered to political prisoners, and they will be able to congratulate their loved ones on holidays.
Important note! Letters and postcards can be sent online via:
Restriction of letters and postcards is one of the routine methods of pressure used by staff in pre-trial detention centers, prisons, and penal colonies. However, it’s important to keep in mind that when the letters arrive, they may turn out to be almost the only happy event for the holidays. In addition, words of support can also be shared through relatives, whose letters reach prisoners.
Support people in open-type correctional institutions
Another option is to order delivery of food or a gift for political prisoners in open-type correctional institutions. However, it is necessary to coordinate the timing with them in advance. Prisoners can use phones in open-type correctional institutions, so you can congratulate them directly on the holidays on social media and via messengers. You can also send them a regular package; there are no restrictions on their content in this case. However, money transfers are not allowed.
Support for people in home confinement
It is also worth remembering about those sentenced to home confinement, whose freedom is very limited, although they stay at home. You can follow them on social media and support them personally. For instance, ceramists Katsiaryna Lesavik and Anastasiya Malashuk, who are serving home confinement sentences, organize clay modeling master classes and sell their clay products. Purchasing items from them can be a meaningful way to show support.
Support for families of political prisoners
You can help families of political prisoners with gathering items for care packages meant for prisoners, and you can also congratulate families on holidays. This is particularly crucial for the children of political prisoners who may not have the opportunity to see their parents. You can support them both personally and by taking part in solidarity fundraisers.
For instance, you can provide assistance to political prisoners and their families by making donations through BYSOL. You can also contribute to aiding former prisoners who have been released after serving their sentences. Furthermore, you are cordially invited to join the Christmas fundraiser aimed at helping children whose parents were incarcerated for political reasons.
The plight of political prisoners in Belarus is perhaps the most acute pain for our country because thousands of human beings have been tormented, tortured, imprisoned for several years in a row, and even killed in jail. Hence, we must make an effort to ensure that the voices of those who struggle with daily ordeals behind bars are heard.
Discuss the challenges faced by political prisoners and the current political situation in Belarus on social media. Share this information with your friends and acquaintances, and explain the contemporary history of repression to those from other countries with whom you interact. It’s important to recognize that the strength of Belarusians lies in solidarity. Only by coming together can we provide support to those forced to celebrate the holidays in solitary confinement or with cellmates.