Can one celebrate during the war? This issue has divided Ukrainian society into two opposing camps. Some are convinced that any celebrations are inappropriate now. Others insist that even in the most difficult period, small reasons for joy will help one hold on and not fall into despair. We will not be involved in this debate, just share the memories of former prisoners who celebrated the new year in Russian captivity. Perhaps this text will be the answer to this question.
On the eve of the great holidays, each prisoner was especially happy with any news from home, any care package that reached the addressee having bypassed the numerous obstacles. Most of the care packages were food. Goodies that would make one forget about the monotonous prison menu for a while and at least bring one back home in one's thoughts. A piece of fish, sausage, cheese, grilled chicken, some sweets – everything that would remind of family holidays.
The goodies received came on the common festive table. It was prepared commonly by all people in the prison cell or a barrack.
"From what our relatives have sent, we tried to prepare festive dishes that we prepared in our everyday life for New Year's feasts – herring under a mayonnaise sauce and red beats, salads, some original sandwiches," - Maryna Chuikova recalls.
No New Year's feast went without a "prison cake". Each of our interlocutors told about this element of the festive table. Usually, the role of pie tiers in it was performed by ordinary cookies. The cream was condensed milk, butter and sugar, pieces of fruit, jam – everything sweet that came to hand. Pie tiers were greased with this improvised cream, laid in several layers (like homemade "Napoleon" cake) and left for a while to "soak".
Then, if the conditions allowed, one could decorate the prison cell and dress up oneself.
"We decorate the prison cell for the holiday as much as we can. Everything is used. White paper, napkins are used to make snowflakes. And pencil-painted flags are put on the wall," - Olena Zavalna tells.
And those who were most lucky, could take the risk of decorating the Christmas tree and having a small party. Secretly from the security.
Valeriy Sokolov tells, the former prisoner of Makiyivka Colony No. 32:
"Security came at 23: 00. It held a "search" and left. After all, they also need to rest. And we have decorated the Christmas tree, held a festive concert – danced, showed miniatures".
New Year's Eve in Makiyivka Colony No. 32 (photo from the personal archives of Valeriy Sokolov)
Miracles happen on the New Year’s Eve. They also happened among prisoners. For example, when in the new year's care package, along with goodies, the prisoner still received a gift from relatives.
- I really wanted to receive perfumes, - Marina Chuikova shares her memories. - I really like good perfumes. So, for the New Year, I was given a bottle of Yves Saint Laurent. I sprayed them on my pillow, I wanted to breathe this smell instead of that basement stench.
Sometimes, some relief was made by the administration of the institution. But these were rather exceptions. Anastasia Mukhina tells. She celebrated her New Year in the Luhansk pre-trial detention center:
- On December 31, we heard pigs being slaughtered outside the windows. Girls who have spent more than one year there say that they will prepare us a festive dinner. And indeed, borscht was waiting for us in the evening. The real, homemade one. With pork and sour cream.
The prisoners did not forget about those who could not receive care packages and in general any messages from the outside, who were in the most severe conditions. Marina Chuikova tells how they, the "political" prisoners, tried to create a holiday for captured soldiers:
- We gave sweets and cigarettes to the guys in the basement, so that they would also feel the holiday. The captured soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were several floors lower. We found the "feet", which means the prisoner who could move freely, paid him with cigarettes and he carried them to the right place.
And another ritual. No one knows what this is related to, but immediately after 00.00 for a few minutes it was impossible to hear anything from the frenzied metal rumble.
- About a second before the New Year, the lights went off. After a couple of minutes, it turns on, their anthem is played ("the anthem of the LPR", - note of the editor). And everyone who has something – metal spoons, mugs, start slamming them on the door. There was such a hum that it is impossible to tell.
- In the first minutes of the new year, all prisoners will start banging their fists on the door with all their might. It's like saying, "Open up, let us out! We are real people and we also want to be free." There is such a commotion everywhere. For about 5-10 minutes... This is such a ritual, or an opportunity not to restrain oneself, to tap out for the whole year of prison time. The guards know about it and don't touch us.
...On New Year's Eve, it is customary to make wishes. Our heroes also made a wish for it. The common one. One for everyone. And it came true – later they celebrated the New Year while being free, in the circle of their relatives.