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.
Maksim Akhtsenka is now in Poland together with his namesake friend. He begins the conversation by explaining why he joined the protest: “For as long as I can remember, we only hear bad news. But we’ve had enough! Now it’s time to express our opinion!” At first he doesn’t want to tell the details about his detention and what happened in Tsentralny district police department of Homiel. There are thousands of such stories, he says.
The two Maksims were detained in a similar way. Seeing that the Homiel police were ready for the second day of protests much better than the demonstrators, the men went to a bar. On their way home they were detained. The police found walkie-talkies, through which friends planned to communicate while there was no Internet, and immediately called them the organisers of the protests. In front of the police carrier they were beaten, but not severely, the man recalls: “I thought it was not a big problem if it continued to be that way.” But then they were brought to the police department. The detainees were transferred to the fourth floor, and Maksim saw a horrible corridor through which dozens of detainees had to crawl with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. OMON riot police and plainclothes men were ruthlessly beating people. Maksim was thrown into an office where several security officers were sitting. There the real torture began.
Protocols, clown masks and other things that allegedly confirmed that Maksim coordinated the protests were handed over to him along with constant swearing and beatings all over his body. All this lasted for hours. These investigative actions were stopped by Alyaksandr Shtrapau, the head of Tsentralny district police department. He suggested ‘talking in a normal way’. He backed up his words by putting his foot on the detainee’s face.
“At that moment, I was lying and looking at the baseboard in this office. And I will not say that I was too worried – I was calm. Most likely, I just put up with it.”
“Do you realise that you can just disappear and no one will be interested in it at all?” The question fell in a break between a series of hard blows. “Do you understand that I dug ten graves in the forest outside the city?”
Maksim believed him and continued to look at the baseboard. The man mentions that he understood perfectly well: that day the security officers got permission for absolutely everything. The interrogation was stopped only by fainting. Obviously, Homiel security officers were not allowed to kill. Maksim was taken to hospital, where he was forced to sign a paper on domestic injury, after which he was brought to the assembly hall of the police department, where dozens of almost equally severely beaten men were lying on the floor waiting for trial.
The three-minute trial and the 12-day arrest warrant did not stop the torture. Maksim was thrown into another room, where there were two men – from the KGB, he thought. They continued the interrogation in the same style as their colleagues from the previous cabinet. They beat him and forced him to admit that Maksim was the owner of clown masks. When Maksim refused, he was given three days:
“During this time I had to remember everything and expose everyone. I was so paranoid – I realised that I was completely in their power. They could do whatever they wanted with me. If they didn’t like me, they could make up any case.”
But three days later Maksim and most of the other detainees were released from the prison, being forced to sign a paper on their non-participation in illegal demonstrations in the future. The next day the man went to the regional hospital where he told about being beaten by the police. Calls from the Investigative Committee began.
“He tells me: ‘We want to gather you all on the 4th floor of the police department so that you can all testify.’ I suspected that as soon as we got together, we would all just be imprisoned.”
When the calls to come to the police department became more persistent, Maksim and his friend did not hesitate: “I said to the border guard: ‘I’m going to the Polish border for political asylum.’ He checked something for half an hour, and then – bye, have a good trip.”
When we talked to Maksim, investigators continued to search for him. They came and called his parents and friends.
Get acquainted with our interviewees and read their stories here.