March 26, 2024

A Theater Director's Letter from Prison


A Theater Director's Letter from Prison
Zhenya Berkovich faces seven years for "justifying terrorism." Anton Novoderezhkin / TASS

Theater director Zhenya Berkovich has been imprisoned since May 2023 on charges of justifying terrorism. If found guilty, she'll face seven years in prison. She and her artistic collaborator, Svetlana Petriychuk, were arrested after a criminal investigation was launched into their award-winning play "Finist the Brave Falcon" (Finist Yasny Falcon). As her trial continues to be postponed, Berkovich loses more time with her two adopted daughters, Kira and Anya. 

In a letter for PravmirBerkovich tells the story of meeting and adopting her daughters in 2019, when they were 13 and 15 years old. After years in the orphanage system, the girls had participated in a theater program for disenfranchised children that Berkovich was leading. Berkovich describes how she bonded with the girls, and, over the course of years, built a family with them, along with her husband, actor Nikolai Matveev. Matveev is currently the primary caregiver for Kira and Anya. 

Berkovich and Petriychuk do not concede any guilt on their charges, which are officially against their play, in which two women get involved in radical Islam over the internet and travel to Syria. Unofficially, their arrest is likely related to protest poetry they wrote after the beginning of the war in Ukraine. The two directors are widely supported by the theater and greater arts community. 

The urgency in Berkovich's letter increases as she considers how long she might be absent from her daughters' lives: "And with each day of this new loss, they again fall back into the hell from which they were miraculously able to escape. There should be a beautiful ending here, but I can’t do it anymore. I'm just hurt and scared for my two girls. And they are hurt and scared for me. [...] We are tired. We want to go home."

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