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.
Unlike most of our characters, Vasil (not his real name) says that he was not surprised by the August events, let alone the events that followed.
“I knew how it would all come back. Many people laugh at Lukashenka’s words, saying that it is nonsense. But when I heard about the shootings, I immediately realised that it was not a joke,” the retired soldier said about Alyaksandr Lukashenka‘s words on June, 4.
At the time, he mentioned ‘his friend Rahmon’, who ‘entered the capital of Tajikistan with a machine gun’. Vasil watched the protest from the car for three days. In the end, on August 12, he decided he’d had enough.
Vasil prepared for a street confrontation. He put on military boots, took a construction helmet, some necessities and a military uniform. However, on August 12 the wave of violence subsided and he went out into the city only when he learned that there were other retired paratroopers there.
“I wanted to show people that ex-servicemen, we who took the oath, we are here. And what the riot policemen are doing … It was a big disgrace,” he explains.
Wearing uniform, he and several dozen other former paratroopers more than once went to the protest and tried to keep order. On September 13, during the March of Heroes, about three dozen former paratroopers tried to protect protesters near the ‘Moscow courtyard’ in the capital.
“We tried to cover people, but this is not a military operation, there were very few of us. I was pulled out, I began to actively resist, immediately sprayed with tear gas and taken to the bus,” the retired soldier seemed to explain why they did not resist people in plainclothes more. Two plainclothed policemen threw him into a bus parked nearby. Hoping for luck, Vasil asked the driver in which unit he had served, hoping it was the same as his. “There were no traitors in my unit,” the driver said. Two more policemen came into the bus and started beating Vasil.
They were aiming for the back of the head and the spine. “I was saved because tere was no room in the bus to go full force,” Vasil recalls. “They turned me over and started trampling me. I understood I needed to save my life. I was taken prisoner, I had to act accordingly.”
The former paratrooper explains that the security forces want to hear screams and moans, and he just started repeating “That’s enough, guys, that’s enough.”
After they stopped beating me, the riot policemen ordered Vasil to take off his striped vest and tore it. Calming down, they took the detainee to Akrestsin Street prison. There they did not beat him and all the time promised to call a doctor, which did not happen. A formal trial was held, and for the next 14 days Vasil remained in the prison in Zhodzina.
The remand prison was relatively calm. Vasil spent a lot of time at the window with a book. He remembered every detail: double bars, cracked glass, torn cellophane outside. Vasil could see the asphalt through a five-centimetre hole.
He remembers one guard. “Twenty-year-old-looking, skinny, balaclava hung on him. He was the only one wearing it all the time. He always had a truncheon and looking for an opportunity to use it,” the former paratrooper laughs. One night this young man took away Vasil’s mattress for no particular reason. In the morning he asked the prisoners if they had understood … life.
Vasil tried to verify the beatings during his imprisonment, but the staff of the remand prison demanded a fax from a lawyer. There was no way for Vasil to call a lawyer, of course. However, the next day after his release, the investigator called and offered to document the beating. The man reasoned that he might not return home for a long time after such a meeting. He left Belarus on the third day after his release from prison.
The former paratrooper believes that the soldiers really have no choice — they can’t disobey the order. He says the following about the riot police:
“They are just a product of ideological treatment. We have an understanding of the loyalty oath. There are military people, and there is a civilian population. We are not traitors – they are criminals! We tried to protect people peacefully and tried to have a dialogue with them,” the man says again, apologetically.
Vasil hides his face, because he hopes to return to Belarus one day, and now he is woried about his friends and colleagues. He is not sure when he may be able to return.
Get acquainted with our interviewees and read their stories here.