In 2020, Belarus became a country with thousands of detained, beaten, tortured people. In its project ‘I Was Being Lucky’, Belsat TV tells the stories of 21 Belarusians who suffered police brutality.
We are talking to Maksim in Poland. He and a few other refugees live in a friend’s house. The man had no illusions about the fairness of the elections in Belarus and, without waiting for the results to be announced, went out to protest in his native Homiel. On the second day of the protests, realising that the blocking of the Internet access will continue, Maksim and a friend took with them two simple walkie-talkies, to be able to contact each other if needed. They were detained. The security forces decided that this was how the protest in the city was coordinated.
Maksim had his head beaten against a paddy wagon, he was called the organiser of the protest. But the real hell started in the police station. “There was a corridor, they made us crawl in it while our hands were handcuffed,” the man said, adding that dozens of people were lying in the corridor, constantly beaten by riot police, police and plainclothes men.
With a demand to “talk normal”, the security officers pulled off Maksim’s pants and threatened to rape him with a truncheon. But nobody was going to talk anyway: “Any question was followed by a hit.” At that moment, the man simply did not understand what they wanted from him. “There was no logic in this violence — they were just given carte blanche, they could do absolutely anything they wanted,” Maksim cannot explain the actions of law enforcement officers.
The half-naked man was dragged to a separate room, where about six people continued to beat him.
Clown masks, items that looked like explosive, protocols were brought to his face. He could not see the contents of the papers, because his eyes were swollen. There, on the floor, Maksim began to pray aloud. He did it for the first time in his life, because he doesn’t believe in God.
“There is no God in this room. No use even looking for Him,” the security officers laughed and continued beating him.
Alyaksandr Shtrapau, the head of Tsentralny district police department of Homiel, entered the room where there was no God. Maksim recognised him at once. The police officer continued the beating, aiming at his face and groin. He again demanded that Maksim signed some documents, claiming that a friend of Maksim had already given evidence against him. The torture lasted for several hours, after which his pants and balaclava were returned to Maksim. These things had already been used to wipe the blood and urine left over from the beating of other detainees in the corridor. They forced him to put it on and only then took him to a remand prison
There, the man’s beatings were examined by a medical worker. He simply shrugged off the complaints saying those were “Nothing more than light scratches.”
A few days behind bars, without beating, seemed like a spa to Maksim compared to what he had experienced during the detention. Next was another symbolic trial. Judge Syarhei Salouski already had a ready decision: 15 days of arrest. “He looked at me like I was a pile of manure,” says Maksim. As early as August 14, Maksim and dozens of other detainees were released without explanation.
Maksim came to the Sunday protest march looking like that. Elderly people approached him with distrust — they thought he had painted his face blue.
Maksim was able to have battery-induced injuries verified in the regional hospital. He was diagnosed with a closed vertebral fracture. There, the female investigator persuaded him to file a complaint to the Investigative Committee. After that, they started looking for Maksim. They called not only family and friends, but even volunteers who met him near the detention centre and doctors. Acquaintances warned Maksim that Homiel police still considered him the organiser of the rallies. That was the last drop. Together with a friend they left for Poland.
“We were being lucky,” says the man. “At the border we told the Belarusian border guards we were going to ask for political asylum. They thought for a long time, and then let us go without further questions.”
Get acquainted with our interviewees and read their stories here.