Hub Eco Series: Greenpeace activist talks about his Russian prison days
6 March 2015 - Impact Hub

Hub Eco Series: Greenpeace activist talks about his Russian prison days

On the 28th January, the Hub Eco Series and Greenpeace Shoreditch presented a special screening of ‘Black Ice’ at Impact Hub Islington, followed by a colourful Q&A with Frank Hewetson, Greenpeace staff member and one of the Arctic 30.

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The film Black Ice tells the story of the ‘Arctic 30’ – the 30 Greenpeace members detained by the Russian government following a peaceful protest activity at a Gazprom oil rig in the Arctic in the autumn of 2013, leading to a three month detainment in prison in Murmansk and St Petersburg.
The film is both terrifying and inspirational.  The crew members were well equipped to bear witness and to document the dramatic events of their protest, the subsequent arrest by armed FSB agents and the detainment in the unsavoury Russian prisons. Much of the film is first hand footage and radio capture, and it poignantly captures the heroism of the 30, the audacity and greed of the oil companies, the desperation of the global situation, and the hope reflected in the international outcry supporting the activists.
It was a privilege to hear from Frank, a self confessed ‘ordinary guy with a passion for ping pong’ who unexpectedly found himself in the middle of an international geo-political stand off.

Unsurprisingly, Frank found prison a dark place, “like you imagine a Russian prison to be, but worse. The food was awful, breakfast was a weak porridge, lunch would be a weak borscht, often containing rotten fish heads, which you just couldn’t eat, and the evening meal was a pearly barley porridge.” Combined with the enforced exercise in tiny concrete pens, Frank lost weight and his health.

Frank recalled with fondness his two cell mates, one convicted of manslaughter, the other for his participation in a teaser mugging gang. “If you had a sense of preservation, you’d share everything with your fellow inmates… you gel as a unit… it’s you and your prison family versus the prison system.” The plentiful food parcels from the Arctic 30’s support network made them many friends on the ‘inside’ as they were able to trade their various items for favours.
Frank spoke of the darkest times – when he and his team were charged with piracy and threatened with 15 years imprisonment – and about the best time when he would receive coveted letters and treats from home, such as back copies of his beloved ‘Private Eye’ magazine.
There was much humor and relish in the way Frank retold his experiences. He is a great storyteller, and it is clear that through these terrible, dark times, Frank’s support network – friends, family, the rest of the 30, Greenpeace and the wider international outcry – and utmost, his belief in the importance of what he was doing – kept his spirit unbroken.
The most poignant moment of all was when asked whether he was optimistic that his actions would help secure an Arctic sanctuary by making the area off limits to advancing industrialisation and oil drilling.  ‘I’m pretty optimistic. We worked very hard on the Antarctic campaign. It will be harder than the Antarctic as the Arctic is basically the backyard of US, Canada, Russiabut I do believe there is hope. I have no regrets

About Greenpeace:
If you want to sign Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic petition and read more about Frank’s story, you can do it here
Greenpeace Shoreditch is a local branch of the international environmental campaigning organisation Greenpeace and meets at the Red Lion in Hoxton, 7:15pm on the first Thursday of the month; connect with them on Twitter and Facebook for more info.
The HUB Eco Series is an event series creating positive debate around the key national and international environmental issues of our time, hosted by Impact Hub Islington. Join our Twitter and Facebook communities to hear about events as they arise and contact the coordinators via @hubecoseries or [email protected] with any questions or ideas.