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.
The regime continues to detain protesters and ordinary bystanders even at the time of our preparing this text. Yauhen Vyalko was jailed in late September. He thinks he was lucky to fall into the police’s hands when it was relatively quiet (of course, if compared to early August). The transgender guy begins with explaining why he participated in women’s marches: “It is still about me, about Belarusians who cannot just watch what is happening. It is impossible to indifferently look at what is going on, at the violence committed by the authorities.” Yauhen was detained on September, 26.
When detaining Yauhen, the riot policemen were very amused by the fact that they came across a transgender person. Later, they kept on mocking at him in Leninski district police department: “Well, what should we do with him? Let’s put him in a cell together with men! Then we’ll see what guy he is!” In the notorious detention centre on Akrestsin Street, Yauhen shared a cell with two friendly men who were also detained during the women’s march. Remembering the tortured people’s stories that got massive media coverage, the young man thought that the situation was not so bad. But on the same day, almost all detainees were taken to the pre-trial detention centre in the town of Zhodzina. During the transfer, the officers cracked myriad jokes about Yauhen’s sex and promised to ‘throw him into the men’s place’.
In Zhodzina, the detainees were forced to undress. Many of the girls were pat-searched by male riot policemen and guards. “They took me to the office and left the door open. It was a kind of show for them: everyone could peer into the room to see a ‘different’ person. When ordered to take my trousers off, I said I was a transguy having breasts. In response, I heard: “We don’t give a sh*t about it,” Yauhen speaks nervously. Before his being sent to a cell, dozens of detention centre workers joined the colleagues in bullying Yauhen: “And what do you have in your pants? Is there anything there? Let’s push him to the men, they will definitely teach him how to be a real guy. Or let’s just take him to the yard and shoot there!”
Fortunately, they did not advance past their threats. Yauhen was not given any personal things, and he shuddered with cold in the morning time. “On the back of the formalistic trial, I was very happy about not being sentenced to 15 days of arrest. I don’t know how I would have endured there. If one really wants to, they can find a way to commit suicide in a cell. I thought of how to do it,” Yauhen admits.
When releasing Yauhen from the detention centre, the officer had a baton in his hands. At a certain moment, it started to prevent him from opening the door, but the man did not put the baton aside, but let Yauhen hold it. The guy was holding a baton in his hands and thinking about the people who had been beaten with it.
“Everyone has heard many stories about what happened on August 9-11, and it’s terrible. So when we went at large and talked to each other, there was a feeling that the things we had gone through were still ‘normal’. At least we were not battered or raped,” Yauhen recalls the conversations he had during the first hours after the release.
It took the young man a few days and a number of messages from the peeople who had witnessed policemen’s abusing him to realise that the way he had been treated was not ‘normal’.
“I am told that those confinement conditions and the way I was treated are defined as ‘torture’ by international organisations.” Yauhen expresses sincere gratitude to everyone who helped him grasp that. Now he understands that it is not OK when people leaving the places of temporary detention say: ‘I am lucky because I was not raped there.’
Get acquainted with our interviewees and read their stories here.