In the centre of Warsaw, in front of the local office of the European Commission, five people dressed in blankets and Belarusian flags are sitting on camping chairs. They have been drinking only water for a few days now. The hunger strikers demand to recognize the Lukashenka regime as terrorist and to immediately impose economic sanctions on Belarus for the repressions against opponents of the authorities.
The initiators of the hunger strike are two young Belarusians – Stasya Hlinnik and Bazhena Shamovich. Stasya has been supporting Belarusian protesters for a long time. She, for example, was the organizer of a demonstration of many thousands in front of the Belarusian Embassy before the elections, in June 2020. She studied at the Main School of Agriculture in Warsaw, but took a year off, as she puts it, “for the revolution”. She is also the granddaughter of the first leader of independent Belarus, Stanislau Shushkevich, and now works with Bazhena at the Youth Hub, an organization that helps young Belarusians in Poland.
Bazhena is studying at the Theatre Academy in Warsaw and came to Poland in October. She comes from Hlybokaye. For the first time she protested in late 2019 against integration with Russia. Then she participated in the election campaign of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She is proud to say that as many as 2,000 people came to the election picket in her 20,000-strong town on a working day. Police kept watch in front of her house during the protests. According to her, she was saved by the fact that she visited many places in Belarus, and the security forces failed to catch her at home.
“It is the third day of the hunger strike, and, frankly, I can’t even think about food. We give interviews, constantly someone comes up and wants to talk to us. We are collecting signatures under the petition. Because of all this in the evening we immediately fall asleep, although we are in the city centre,” says Bazhena.
The participants of the hunger strike built a small tent camp in front of the European Commission in Poland.
When asked if it is difficult to strike in front of two restaurants, the girl laughs, saying that there is enough irony in it:
“Sometimes people come from McDonald’s and sit on a bench in front of us and eat, and we almost do not pay attention to it.”
“There were cases when people, seeing that we were protesting, brought us food, and we had to disappoint them with our refusal, – says another participant of the protest, a member of the strike committee “Belaruskali” Dzmitry Kudzyalevich.
In addition to the embroidered shirt, he wears the company’s branded clothing and walks with a white-red-white flag in his hand.
In August 2020, the striker escaped from the KGB headquarters in Salihorsk through a small window in the toilet, and then made his way to Ukraine. He was fired for his trade union activities after 20 years as an engineer.
Kudzyalevich joined the protest, as he is a little ashamed that the burden of protests is borne by women in Belarus.
“And to fight is exactly the task of men,” he adds, with which, however, his companions do not agree.
Another hunger striker is Dziyana Ihnatkova, a former student of the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts. She is in Warsaw since March. She left Belarus after the KGB invaded the constituent assembly of the student union league and detained more than 30 members of the student movement. Dziyana was among them. The security forces first thoroughly “rummaged” in her activities. When they learned that she was one of the student leaders, they began to persuade her to sign an agreement to cooperate with the KGB. After that she decided to flee to Poland.
“I was very worried about the beginning of the “student case” process, realizing my helplessness. Yuliya Charnyauskaya, my university teacher, was also detained for three days. Fear grew in me, then there was the incident with the plane. Besides, I listen to what my relatives who stayed in Belarus tell me. I can’t look at it, listen and do nothing about it. Such a radical step as a hunger strike attracts attention.”
“The day before the hunger strike I was very upset. And when I’m here, people come up, I feel like they care, and I feel better. And it’s morally much better than not striking, sitting at home without being able to either work or learn because of your worries.”
The protesters are going to be on a hunger strike “until the end” – till the imposition of economic sanctions against Belarus.
The fifth participant of the hunger strike is Dasha, a cellist. She fled Belarus in March when her apartment was searched. She does not want to talk about the details of her persecution, she is afraid to reveal facts that could harm her relatives who are under arrest. According to her, it is better not to mention it at all, because sometimes you only feel worse.
Stasya confirms that Poles who are care about the fate of Belarus are constantly approaching them. In three days they received at least 300 new signatures. Yesterday there were four demonstrations of support and one concert at which the Belarusian band performed. Today, the protesters are also visited by the speaker and vice speaker of the Senate.
The speaker of the Polish Senate Tomasz Grodzki assures the hunger strikers of his support and hands them a resolution condemning the “radical actions of the Belarusian authorities.” As he stressed, the document was adopted very quickly, which is rare in Polish conditions. Stasya could hardly hide her tears of excitement
Soon the vice-speaker of the Senate Bogdan Borusewicz appears, who enters into a long conversation with the Belarusian striker.
– It was me who organized a strike in Gdansk in 1980, – he tells a former employee of “Belaruskali”.
– Was that you? I specifically went to Gdansk to photograph this gate. Let’s take a photo together, I’ll send it to my comrades at the plant, – Dzmitry Kudyialevich asks him.
Bogdan Borusewicz announces that each of the senators will take one of the political prisoners in Belarus under his care and send him a letter.
The cameras of various TV channels were waiting for the visit of the politicians to the hunger strikers.
“We live with the awareness that we are doing something important. And every day we know that we cannot give up, that we will bring the case to an end,” adds Stasya.