42 years old, entrepreneur. “While two of them were beating me up, the third one yelled: ‘Kill that asshole!'”
On the evening of August 10, Aliaksei decided to kill two birds with one stone: to meet with a friend to deal with car issues and scope out the situation in the city later on. They stopped near the Riga shopping mall and Bangalore Square, then at the Stela and Belteleradiocompany headquarters, in the Kamarouka market neighborhood, and back to the mall again. While detaining Aliaksei, the security forces provoked a traffic accident and beat him up. Aliaksei didn’t make it to the police department: he fully regained consciousness only in a hospital emergency room after a surgery had been performed. His ear was stitched up, and one of his fingers had to be quite literally rebuilt from bone fragments.
“I regained consciousness when they were loading me into an ambulance. The doctor’s eyes widened in shock at the sight of me”
– When my friend and I were sitting stuck in traffic on Kuibyshau Street, many locals came out to their balconies and showed their support with shouts and applause. After a while, it became clear that things were winding down in the Riga mall neighborhood; yet, people started running out of courtyards later on. I and other people in traffic pre-emptively turned around to exit but kept honking. When internal troops’ tented vehicles carrying people started leaving from near the Monetka shopping mall on Kulman Street, the law enforcers near the Riga mall began packing up.
My friend and I decided to leave in order not to get caught in the security forces’ trap. We drove around the neighborhood and returned to the Riga mall. People were already celebrating there: hurray, we’ve retaken “Riga”, everything was cool. We got excited too and drove past the Belteleradiocompany headquarters one more time. There was no internet connection, but as long as it was quiet near “Riga” and here, it meant that everything was fine.
While we were grabbing a bite at Yolki-Palki cafe, we met a guy with a flag. I remember he even had a slingshot sticking out of his pocket (laughs). We stroke up a conversation, and it turned out that he had been near “Riga” too. We felt like winners, and why not give a man a lift? It was to the Pushkinskaya station area – no questions asked, we jumped in the car and drove.
“The man in the balaclava was pointing a gun at me instead of the truncheon”
I passed special purpose vehicles that were moving slowly from Pushkinskaya subway station and pulled up to the intersection at Kamennaya Horka subway station from Zhdanovichy side. I stopped at a red light, and my friend poked me in the side, “Look where we have arrived.” The entire Prytytskaha Street was blocked by “cosmonauts” [riot police in tactical gear]. They were banging their shields, and men carrying guns and a water cannon could be seen behind them. All this “procession” was moving toward us, and people were running to our right.
I was in a daze, and my first thought was to take some pictures to show the guys later. Someone must have told the security forces that I was filming, and law enforcers came running at us. I peeled off in my car, and a vehicle from the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime pulled out into the path of oncoming traffic and stopped in front of the law enforcers’ crowd. Apparently, people inside the vehicle didn’t realize that we’d already attracted the security forces’ attention, but they figured it out quickly. I was astounded: first they hit the car, and now we were being chased by people clad in black and wearing balaclavas in a car without flashing lights!
Their vehicle was more powerful than our car, so they caught up with us quickly. They pulled up at the first intersection, jumped out, and started hitting our car with sticks. I shifted into reverse gear and flew to the next intersection, but they caught up with us again and blocked the road. They didn’t signal us to stop or give any warnings. The situation caused bewilderment and fear.
I felt like running away as soon as possible but did not want to give up or apologize for anything. I somehow managed to steer out of the way, but a car with its flashers on joined the chase. At some point, the car with no flashers pulled up alongside mine, and a man with a truncheon leaned out of a window and started hitting the mirrors and windshield of my car. We were driving at a speed of at least 60 km/hour, and he didn’t give a flying f*ck! I weaved my car, but they stepped on it and caught up with us again. This time the man wearing the balaclava was pointing a gun at me instead of the truncheon. F*cking hell. It was like a crappy and bizarre movie.
“Some jackass grabbed my phone and started yelling”
It occurred to me that we should move closer to the crowd, then these wild ones would leave us alone. I was about to turn, but my car was pushed back again. In order not to get in a car accident, I turned in the direction of the Minsk Beltway and realized: I didn’t know what to do next. One of the guys suggested that we take the Hrodna highway. We were passing the bridge on Prytytskaha Street when our car was rammed again – it flew to the shoulder. I was barely keeping control of my car, and they cut me off again and pushed me toward a concrete divider.
We were shocked, and they pulled us out of the car and started beating us up. Not only were we involved in a car accident caused by the security forces, but we were also being roughed up. Some jackass grabbed my phone and started yelling that I was a f*cking [protest] coordinator, that I had been followed for a long time, and that I was utterly screwed. His yelling was accompanied by punches and kicks. I started answering back, asking who they were. After they had thrown some punches at me, I said that I would not unlock my phone and that they could do whatever they wanted to me, even kill me.
They totally flipped out on me upon hearing this. They smashed my phone and gave me a sound thrashing. While two of them were beating me up, the third one yelled: “Kill that asshole!” I was lying on my side and covering my head with my hands. That’s why my hands took the brunt of it. Then one of them sat on top of my torso and started punching me in the head. After that, my ear was in such a state that they had to stitch it up in the hospital.
I woke up in the front seat of the police car as they were “bringing me to my senses” by hitting me in the face. When I started stirring, one of the policemen began questioning me. He asked me who I was and yelled that they would take me to the police department and I’d kick the bucket there. “Who do you work for? How do you coordinate protests? Who’s paying you?” I replied that I was on my way home and that they wouldn’t be able to get away with what they’d done to me. “Oh, we wouldn’t get away with it?” And so they started working me over again. I passed out.
“Well, where are these ‘heroes’?”
I regained consciousness when they were loading me into an ambulance. I remember the doctor’s eyes were wide in shock: my finger was twisted, my arms wouldn’t move, my body was swollen and bruised, and I could hardly speak. It came to my mind in the emergency room: should I make a run for it or what? If they could grab me right off the street, they could take me from here, too. What should I do? Should I flee the emergency room? But I could only see with one eye, I couldn’t move, my chest was hurting, my headspace was in chaos, and I was completely disoriented.
When I was taken for a CT scan, a policeman accompanied me. When I returned to the emergency room, I heard: “Well, where are these ‘heroes’?” A high-rank policeman stood next to the entrance. I think he was a colonel because the stars on his insignia were big and fat. Next to him was a plainclothes dude, clearly not a civilian.
What should I do? Should I fake a heart attack? I felt ill even without a heart attack: it was difficult to breathe, my heart was pounding… Some sort of a winded feeling, as if after falling on my back from a height. So I just kept my eyes closed. They stood there, looked at me, and tried to call out, but a doctor came, and I was taken to the intensive care unit.
The next meeting with the police was after a hand surgery when I was transferred from the intensive care unit to a regular hospital room. A man came in and demanded that I sign a preliminary police report. The report said I had participated in such and such activities, and my actions had been recorded. He said there was nothing to be afraid of, and that was just a formality. He added that they only had a couple of questions for me, and I only needed to sign in two places in the document. I said I wouldn’t sign anything right after the surgery, and that’s it, goodbye. “It’ll only take five minutes!” “Goodbye!” He took offense and left.
“If they take me away now, there is no way I would return to the hospital”
The number of volunteers at the emergency hospital was impressive. There were a lot of bruised and maimed people there, and volunteers would come all the time. They brought water and fruits, then some other goodies, and entertained us in every possible way. They also helped me get in touch with a lawyer. He brought us up to speed on the situation in the country. A couple of days later, we documented physical abuse and submitted a statement to the Investigative Committee of the Frunzenski district in Minsk. They didn’t give me copies of any documents, and I only managed to take a picture of two pages from the statement we had written in the Investigative Committee office.
It was around August 18. Two people followed by the doctor entered my hospital room the day after we had gone to the Investigative Committee. I was sitting in the hallway talking with my lawyer. I realized: if they took me away now, there was no way I would return to the hospital.
When I was advised to leave the city for a safe place where I could also receive medical care, I packed my belongings and decided to leave without a second thought. I kept Wi-Fi on and turned off cell service. After one more week, I was offered an opportunity to leave the country as part of a rehabilitation program. I already had a visa, but we were issued humanitarian visas specifically for this purpose and given bus tickets.
We were asked a lot of questions at the Belarusian border, like why are you going abroad, what do you do? I said that I was going for treatment after a car accident, that I had received my visa through a travel agency, and the only things I carried were my backpack and my personal belongings. As soon as we pulled up to the separation barrier at the Polish border, a border guard stepped inside the bus and called our names. He checked our passports, spoke to someone on his walkie-talkie, and the bus pulled up to the main building, not the border checkpoint. All the passengers were in shock. There was an ambulance waiting outside the building. They led us out and gave us a quick physical exam. I was urgently given an IV drip and taken to a hospital immediately. After that, I spent another four months in rehabilitation.
P.S. A criminal case was launched against Aliaksei for resisting police officers, creating a dangerous situation on the road, and numerous traffic violations. He is also accused of organizing and coordinating mass protests. Aliaksei’s business was seized. The car in which he had been detained was found sitting in an impound yard only at the end of August. The car was qualified as evidence in the case.
Author: August2020 project team
Photo: August2020 project team