A Personal Real-Life Story from Belarus

  • Brutal mistreatment by police
  • Youth separated from parents & thrown into jail
  • Women imprisoned, beaten, kept without  food & water for days
  • Almost no sanitary facilities
  • Stripped of all personal possessions

NOTE:  FOREF-Europe has received this first-hand account of ill-treatment and violence by authorities in Belarus, written by a woman who was arbitrarily detained for three days in inhumane and degrading conditions. We can absolutely vouch for the authenticity of this story.

We ask you to share this document so more will be aware of the reality of political oppression in Belarus.

I was arrested on 10 August, 10:38 PM, in front of the Central Police Station. That was on Monday, the day after the presidential elections. I was there to help a friend, who had been told that her 16 years old son had been arrested earlier that evening on a street in Minsk and taken to that police station. All around the police station was quiet. Parents were coming to look for their children, adults, and adolescents. Wives were coming to look for their arrested husbands. They were all crying in despair. They didn’t know where to go, what to do, where to look for their children or husbands. Patrol cars on Arlowskaya Street raced by, sirens on full volume.

People who had gathered in front of the Police station badly needed water, some of them were on the verge of hysteria. Pens and paper were needed to report relatives’ disappearance.

The police took in reports on missing persons, people who had disappeared, but they did not register or file anything. When people asked the officers about filing, they were told: “Tonight we don’t register anything”. My friends handed to the police a report on their son’s disappearance but remained near the police station. So, did I. Many of the people who gathered there were in need of help and support.

Police buses came to the police station, entered in the courtyard, and then left again. People around the police station realized that if they were to have a slight chance to see their loved ones, they had to remain quiet and silent.

All of a sudden, a police bus arrived, but it did not enter the courtyard. It stopped near the main entrance. A group of men got off the bus. They were all dressed in black, in full battle gear and in black balaclavas. Nobody of those who were standing next to the police building tried to run away or in any way behave unlawfully. They were all there looking for their loved ones.  The black clad men encircled all those people and began loading them on their bus.

They treated the people on the bus rather nicely, there was no aggressivity. They even said: we take you away for 20 minutes, then we release you. They talked with the people on the bus and tried to comfort them. The benches in the bus were placed along the sides. All married couples remained together. They hugged and comforted each other. We finally arrived at “Stella”, where the police began in a brutal way to separate men from women, some of whom were just young girls.

I think this is when violence was used for the first time against the men. They were divided in small groups of two or four and moved to another bus. In that bus there were what they called “glasses”, a kind of a small box for a single person. Into these “glasses” the police jammed 2 even 3 men.

Then everybody was told to hand over their cellular phones, which were put in a non-descript wooden box. Later wecould not find out what happened with all these cellular phones. The officer at the Information Desk told people the phones were lost for ever, since there have been many thousands, too many to count.

I found myself, together with two young women in one of the “glasses”. One of the girls felt sick and lost consciousness because she could not properly breathe. I asked several times the policemen to help her, at least to open the bus door, but nobody did anything. Only once we arrived at the Akrestsina Prison and awaited our turn to leave the bus, one of the policemen on the bus allowed, against the protests of all the others, to open the door.

This was also the last time anybody showed any compassion at all to those arrested. All were thrown with cries of “Faster, faster!” into the main building at Akrestsina. My attempts to help the girl, who was barely able to walk, were met with aggressive yelling and gross curses, as well as hard truncheons blows to my back.

Mass-demo in the capital of Belarus (Photo: ABC News)

8 – 10 women were lead to a  cell, where they were forced to stand facing the wall and look down and, under  the threat of beating, not to talk to anybody, nor turn the head in any direction.

Cursing and gross insults began already at the entrance and followed me and all the other women 24 hours out of 24 during our entire stay at Akrestsina. Two female guards arrived and began asking about our surnames and all our personal data (year of birth, place of residence). We had to repeat the same data at least four more times and then sign the protocol. Then we were given some garbage bags in which we were told to put all our valuables. The bags were then signed. To skip to the end of the story, when we were released after three days at 4:30 AM, we didn’t receive those bags. We were told it was to difficult to find them.

After that, we were shown to the cell, where to the incessant yelling of “Faster, faster!”, curses and truncheon blows to their backs, all women were made to fully undress and sit on the floor. The guards collected everything: rubber bands for the hair, underwired brassieres, everything. To some of the women, the even opened their aprons to make sure nobody hid anything.

I am a grown-up woman, and refused to do everything so fast, which cost me a big boot blow to my back. Especially brutal was one of the female guards, a young blond, 25-28 years old. She treated the older women with unusual cruelty. She even took one of the women’s breast prothesis and even the wet handkerchief, with which she cleansed a wound on her arm.

After that we were ordered to stand in the corridor, hands behind our backs, looking down on the floor. Next to us the men stood naked on their knees. One young girl was apprehended together with her parents. I cannot imagine, how she must have felt seeing her father in this state.

The men, who were standing on their knees, bent forward, with their heads down, were ordered to run up to the second floor to the cells. Many of them were no teenagers, but men in their 40s and older. In the following days we could hear all the time their bare feet running on the corridor above.

Later I understood that this actually was “the humane way”. Those who were brought to the jail later, were forced to lie on the floor face down, all night, and longer.

The women were also brought to their cells. The cell was 3.5 x 4.5 m with two cot rows, matrasses and blankets, and a toilet with a door. The air was suffocating. Water only from the tap. We were lucky enough to have some toilet paper – other women, as we later found out, did not have enough. At night, we laid down as we could.

Some of the women were crying: how can something like this happen in Belarus? Others remained relatively calm. But, after two and a half days, in the end most of the women could not keep their calm and let the tears flow.

Every night began with new women inmates being brought in our cell. They were all young and pretty, 20 to 25 years of age. Everyone had her own story: one lived near “Stella” and went out in her bathrobe to feed the cats; another one went to the city center with her husband and were taken by the OMON[1]. Another one was brutally dragged out of her car, so her phone and car keys broke.

In all there were 21 of us. But these were still relatively good conditions, because later in the same little cell we arrived at a total of 53 women. One of the women, a girl called Sasha, was 20 years. She was raised in an orphanage in a small town. Her parents died when she was 9. She was beaten up when she was arrested (impossible to tell who exactly arrested her, but she saw a Russian flag on one of the men’s shoulder sleeve insignia.)

Massive police attacks against peaceful protestors (Photo: Financial Times)

The first two nights were horrible. Buses arrived continuously to the Akrestsina prison. We could hear how the prisoners were taken off the buses, how the guards beat them. Grown-up men screamed in horror, some of them called for their “mama”. Others just moaned.

Some men after being released told their families that prison employees in the morning washed the area near the fence from blood stains. When we heard all those screams, K. and I began to pray. After a while we simply lost it and only the prayers kept us from howling. Others covered their ears and just cried, they knew that their sons were somewhere in the same situation – or worse.

The guards constantly brought and removed women from other cells, who had just arrived. All their stories were one more awful than the other. The worst thing was that many had to spend the nights in rooms covered with iron bars in stead of roofs, basically outdoors, on cold cement floors. They were told: “There’s too many of you. Here at least you get some fresh air”. Of course, they couldn’t get any air at all.

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In comparison with the men, the women were not beaten so badly. All bruises and cuts they got during the arrest and the registration at the Akrestsina prison. Everything we had to do in a big hurry: get out of the cell, stand against the walls to be checked. In the end many of the women did not manage to put on their shoes so they had to stand with bare feet on the concrete floor for more than one hour.

Those who were moved to another cell, or transferred to another prison, often forgot some of their things: underwear, socks, contact lenses in small boxes, and so on.

We were all again and again taken to the corridor to be, once more, registered, photographed, and to tell our respective story. Again and again: write it all down on a piece of paper, write the names of all those who were with you on the barricades – then you can go home. One group of 33 women told us later, that they were told that, if they sign the protocol and agree with everything written in it, the court would be friendly, and they would soon go home. In the end the court sentenced them to 7 to 15 days in prison. Obviously, none of them went home anytime soon. We asked for a doctor, since one of the women suffered from diabetes and needed insulin shots. So, we asked for a glucometer and for insulin. The answer was: “What for? You won’t get anything to eat anyway. So, you won’t need any insulin.”

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There were a couple of female physicians in the group who for a whole day asked for a medic to see to one of the girls, who had broken a leg. In the end all we got was the local paramedic, who helped the girl, and gave her a pain killer. Nobody even tried to call an ambulance. At that time, she could no longer walk. Too painful.

Water only from the tap, no food at all. Yet, on Wednesday, almost on the third day we were given “breakfast”, that is 8 slices of bread, with which we fed the new arrivals, who also has gone hungry for three days.

The toilet paper was quickly used up, there were so many women in the cell. So, we had to wash ourselves with cold water. There were no hygienic products. Even asking for any of those was too painful.

One night the guards took out of the cells all women with previous convictions. (2-3 women out of cells with 40 – 50 women). They recorded everything on camera. They forced the women to say for which crime they had been sentenced. And so on.

When we tried to sleep, the air was horribly suffocating. We tried to open the cell door a little to get some air, but it was almost impossible to breathe anyway. The lack of air was simply catastrophic.

The women were forced to undress to underwear, while there were video cameras in all corners and a sharp light 24 hours a day. Then on the 3rd day, the seven of us, who were arrested near the police station, were suddenly awakened at 4 AM and were let go on the street without our things, not even our shoelaces.

If not for the volunteers, who waited in the street, we could not have called our families or get a little warmth under a blanket. Nor drink water, which we all badly needed, since the tap water was downright awful. We got a little food and finally went home.

I want very much to thank those volunteers and all those, who took serious risks by standing next to us (some of them paid a heavy price for that). They stood in front of the Akrestsina Prison, loudly announced the time every hour and clapped their hands in support of those inside.

Aliesia Charniauskaia

[1] OMON: Russian acronym for “Militsiya units for special purposes”, basically riot police, tasked with beating up demonstrations of any kind

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