Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access

From Chronicle of a Hunger Striker, which is forthcoming from Deep Vellum. Sentsov was arrested in 2014 for protesting the Russian annexation of his native Crimea, and spent five years in a penal colony, where he went on a hunger strike that lasted for 144 days. He is currently fighting in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces. Translated from the Russian.

day four

I got put on bed rest! This is a real help on a hunger strike: you can warm up and relax while conserving energy and body heat. This afternoon I lay in bed for several hours and ended up falling asleep.

I dreamed that my father was standing next to his red Moskvitch car and I was in the Peugeot I had before my most recent one. My brakes weren’t working and I couldn’t park next to him. My father didn’t seem to be looking at me and was instead talking to someone at a roadside kiosk. This was all happening in my home village, at a turnoff that leads from the garage where he used to work toward the kindergarten where my mother worked. In the end I managed to park the car a little higher up the street, next to some others, instead of on that dangerous turnoff. That was the extent of my dream. Short but vivid, just like reality. They say that communicating with the dead is a sign of affliction, but we didn’t seem to exchange any words with each other; he didn’t even look at me.

It was snowing outside my window again. It’s strange for me, a southerner, to see snow in mid-May, as the heat would have already reached us in Crimea and the strawberries would have ripened by now. One of the prison officers came, the head of my detachment: he’s a captain, a good guy. He was the one who brought me the two letters from my family on my first night here. Today I gave him a letter for my mother, and he handed me a piece of paper stating that in case of a medical emergency I would be force-fed. After that he left. I wanted to tell him that if all policemen were like him there’d probably be fewer criminals, but we didn’t have the time to discuss such things.

day five

I went to my daily appointment in the medical unit. It’s only in the next building over. The doctor weighed me, then took my pulse, blood pressure, and another urine sample. According to him, all of my stats are normal, as far as hunger strikes go.

Since the only person with access to me now is the guard who, in theory, is responsible for the whole prison, it means my situation has taken a serious turn. Prison management is clearly disgruntled and is turning up the heat. They’ve started to broadcast a daily hour-long lecture on prison rules and protocol over the radio. At least the Keeper of the Kettle supplies me with boiling water on a more or less regular basis, not realizing that I don’t want to drink it as much as I want to warm up with it. I try to explain this to him, but this time he’s in no hurry to have a conversation: he feels that dark clouds have started gathering over me, and he quickly goes off to hide in his lair.

day six

I slept badly again last night: it took me a long time to fall asleep and I kept waking because of the cold. My legs didn’t warm up, not even in the morning. Still, my overall condition has stabilized somewhat: my head isn’t spinning as much and the ringing in my ears no longer sounds like the roar of a distant plane that is constantly taking off. My brain sends cheerful messages to my organs: hold on, guys, this is how it’s supposed to be, everything’s going to be fine! My mood because of this is more or less calm. My subconscious begins to play tricks on me, aware its time is coming, knowing that when a basic instinct like hunger starts to rule over the body, it will push consciousness aside. But all that’s still to come; not soon, I hope.

The weather this morning deteriorated again: fog, mist, and damp. I decided to shave. The Keeper of the Blades gave me my razor and shaving cream. He keeps everything on him afterward so that I don’t go and slit my wrists. As I shaved, I saw myself in the mirror for the first time this week. I saw nothing good: it would have been better not to have looked at all. I called to mind a friend’s father back in our village who had cirrhosis of the liver. His whole family came to visit us one holiday. Everyone would talk with and smile at him as if nothing had happened, as if unaware he didn’t have long left. He smiled back at everyone with a toothless grin, and his eyes seemed to bulge out of his skull. I’ve started moving in that direction, by the looks of it.

| View All Issues |

June 2022

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now