Photo: Yuriy Savelyev

Inside Penal Colonies and Detention Centers

‘The Father Has Everything Under Control.’ Yuriy Savelyev Tells of Life in Jail and Nearly 5,000 Letters From Around the World

Novosibirsk Region

Yuriy Savelyev, a 66-year-old resident of Novosibirsk, has been detained for almost a year and a half. In prison, he faced humiliation, poor health, and the threat of contracting coronavirus, but in those trials he felt God's support. He received about 4,700 letters from 44 countries and encourages others himself. Despite all the difficulties, Yuriy considers isolation as an opportunity to encourage others. "Love life! [...] Dear ones, take care of and forgive each other, while there is time.”— Yuriy, writing in a responding letter.

"The Father has everything under control," Yuri describes his attitude to difficulties in one of his letters "to freedom", implying the support of God.

Yuriy is now being held in a small cell, usually with one or two other cellmates, who are sometimes replaced. One of them pestered the believer with insults for almost six months and constantly smoked. As you know, Jehovah's Witnesses do not use tobacco, and for an elderly and not very healthy person, cigarette smoke is all the more harmful.

This attitude did not unsettle Yuri, he continued to try to behave kindly with others. In addition, neighbors in the cell, as a rule, turn out to be pleasant people to talk to. One of them was greatly surprised that Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted for their faith, and wished to learn more about their beliefs from the writings of unbiased religious scholars.

Recently, Yuriy's health has deteriorated somewhat, and treatment is difficult in the conditions of the pre-trial detention center. "Teeth here are not treated at all - they are immediately removed. Yuriy has already lost two, although they could have been saved at large, "said his lawyer after Yuri's visit.

Although the pre-trial detention center is in quarantine due to the pandemic, the fact that one of Yuriy's cellmates performs various works in the detention center adds to the believer's anxiety. At the same time, he walks without a mask, shoe covers and gloves, during the day he is in different places, communicating with many people.

Fragment of a letter from Yuri Savelyev
Fragment of a letter from Yuri Savelyev

Despite all the difficulties, Yuri remains calm and positive. He sees the conditions of isolation as an opportunity to support others. "Love life! You live with her and live ... My dear, take care of each other and mutually forgive while there is time, "Yuriy writes and thanks for the support from fellow believers and other caring people who write to him in the pre-trial detention center.

Case of Savelyev in Novosibirsk

Case History
Six years in a penal colony—this was the harsh sentence that 66-year-old Yuri Savelyev from the city of Novosibirsk received for his faith. The man was arrested in November 2018 during searches in the homes of believers. He was in pre-trial detention until his sentencing in December 2020. The appellate court, and later the cassation court, upheld the verdict. In May 2021, Yuriy Savelyev was transferred to Penal Colony No. 5 in the city of Rubtsovsk, Altai Territory. In the colony, the administration, with no legitimate basis, tried to force the believer into treatment for alcoholism. On far-fetched grounds, the elderly man spent about nine months in harsh conditions of detention. Yuriy was released in July 2023.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Novosibirsk Region
Suspected of:
according to the investigation he unlawfully organised the activity of the religious organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Novosibirsk (with reference to the decision of the Russian Supreme Court on the liquidation of all 396 registered organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Court case number:
November 7, 2018
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
Investigative Department of the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Novosibirsk Region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
Ленинский районный суд Новосибирска
Case History