Two days after the celebration at the Church of St. Nicholas, halfway across the country, Andrei Tolokonnikov and his 80-year-old mother Vera sat around a small kitchen table in a rundown Soviet-era high-rise in the depths of Siberia. The electricity had gone out, as it does almost every day, and Vera lit candles so we could see the pancakes she’d made for dinner.
They’d gone to see Nadya, his daughter, that morning. She’d recently been transferred to the prison hospital in Krasnoyarsk, after publicly complaining of death threats and slave labor at the labor colony in the republic of Mordovia where she had been serving her sentence. They waited for three hours in order to pay 400 rubles (around $12) for a 15-minute video chat with Nadya, on the other side of a wall. There were 20 other people waiting to do the same with their relatives.
“She was sad. Who knows why?” Vera said, rummaging through the kitchen drawers looking for another candle. “Maybe she’s not feeling good, maybe she’s tired; it’s monotonous there. Before, she was happy, she joked, laughed.”