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.
During our conversation, 21-year-old Yakau Sukhnat tries to laugh the matter off at every turn. He smiles a lot, we spontaneously go to first name terms. Like many of our interviewees, he says that he still had luck, because he was not tortured for long. The young man was detained on the evening of August 11, when he was cautiously returning home. Knowing that the police grabbed people at bus stops, he went on foot and came across a tinted-windowed bus and some persons in civvies.
They threw the young man onto the bus floor and started battering, accusing him of coordinating the ongoing protests. They beat out the password for the phone, logged in to his Telegram account and saw ‘a standard set of a Belarusian’: the ‘extremist’ Telegram channel which one must not name in Belarus, Radio Svaboda, Belsat TV. “Their eyes became bloodshot.
They grabbed me by the hair and shouted: ‘Look in the eye! Who is your informant? A blow came. “You are an informant!” One more blow. They asked absolutely meaningless and stupid questions,” Yakau recalls.
After the beating, he was thrown on the bus floor again, and one of the plainclothes men put his foot on his head and began to press. “He was standing like that for about half a minute, and I realised that if I showed that I was in pain, he could press even harder and make mincemeat of my face,” says the young man. Those men took Yakau to Frunzenski district police department of Minsk.
In the corridor, the detainee complained that he was getting vomiting. He asked to go out, saying he did not want to make the floor dirty. He was taken out, but spasms stopped in the fresh air. “At that moment, a fat man wearing a balaclava comes up and asks: ‘Who is this?” They answer, and he says: “No, it won’t work, let’s put him in a prison truck, let our people have fun,” says Yakau. The ‘fun’ turned out to be dropping people onto the floor and purposefully hitting them in their legs. The same man forcibly opened Yakau’s mouth, put in a piece of paper, and ordered him to eat it. Then all the detainees – about 200 people – were flung into the gym.
Yakau says he just got plain lucky because the plainclothes men who had taken him for either an informant or a protest coordinator left, and other officers treated him like other detainees. In the gym, everyone signed the protocols drawn according to one and the same sample. For example, those protocols read that all the detainees chanted ‘Freedom for Statkevich’ and ‘Sveta [Tsikhanouskaya] is our president’. Then there was a transfer to the detention centre on Akrestsin Street.
“They kick you out of the prison truck, you go up steep stairs, you see only legs, you have your hands behind your back, and you are still beaten,” Yakau describes the ‘reception’.
Then Yakau spent a whole day in the prison yard, he was kneeling and looking down all the time. He saw only his feet, the wall of the detention centre, and the staffers’ boots. By that time, the man had a traumatic brain injury, and paramedics were ready to hospitalise him.
But in the very last moment one of the officers pulled Yakau out of the ambulance car, saying: “Enough! End of free ride!” And Yakau had to await the trial. The judge was outraged over the fact that the beaten-up man denied charges; she sentenced him to 12 days in jail.
Yakau also tells us about the exercise yard in which about 90 detainees were held. People tried to warm themselves by huddling together. They were hardly allowed to sit down. A usual bucket served as a toilet. “We got three one-and-a-half-litre bottles of water for 92(!) people.
And those people who hugged and helped one another went berserk when it came to water.” Yakau recalls how the detainees started steaming when someone drank too much. But all the quarrels stopped when they heard sounds coming from outside: “We heard moans and screams; it seemed as if there were sinners in the hell’s cauldron. We realised that they kept beating people there, and how lucky we were not to be in their shoes.”
The following day the people were taken to the hospital in the town of Slutsk, where the conditions were relatively acceptable. After his release, the young man went to the emergency care hospital in Minsk. “There were lots of health workers and volunteers in a fuss. I just wanted to have the injuries verified, but a doctor said: “We are going to hospitalise you, you have a brain concussion.” But like most of his fellows in misery, Yakau refused to be admitted to hospital:
“I was lucky,” repeats the young man, “most of the released were bruised from head to foot, and I’m fine by now.”
Get acquainted with our interviewees and read their stories here.