Brest protesting against hazardous plant amid corona crisis

Even during the outbreak of COVID-19, local residents keep protesting against the operation of the battery plant owned by iPower Company in the Brest Free Economic Zone.

Since early 2018, people have been gathering in the central square on Sundays. They believe that the plant’s lead emissions that exceed permissible norms threaten the health of the local population. Protesters have collected and sent 37,000 signatures to the Presidential Administration asking them to stop the construction that began in late 2017. But the authorities remained dismissive of the petition and the project was completed.

Peaceful protest in Brest. 29 March 2020. Photo: Milana Kharytonava / Belsat

Almost every Sunday people hold peaceful protest rallies; in turn, the local police detained some participants as the city authorities outlawed the protests. In most cases, the people just fed pigeons or carried baloons.

Peaceful protest in Brest. 29 March 2020. Photo: Milana Kharytonava / Belsat

On March 29, about 150 people took part in the so-called feeding of pigeons. The participants were wearing homemade yellow masks and trying to keep a safe distance.

The protesters have recently received unconfirmed information that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka allegedly ordered the Brest authorities to ‘tackle the battery plant issue by April, 15’.

Peaceful protest in Brest. 29 March 2020. Photo: Milana Kharytonava / Belsat

“We are more afraid of the plant than the coronavirus, because the pandemic will pass someday, but the plant might remain,” the protesters say.

After the rally, they marched along Pushkinskaya and Sovetskaya streets.

No one was detained, but the police warned that the rally was not authorised by the authorities. Human rights activist Raman Kislyak stresses he filed a lot of applications to stage the event to the city executive committee, but they were repeatedly turned down.

In mid-June last year, chairman of Brest region executive committee Anatol Lis signed an order to stop the construction of the plant, while the company’s management was behind bars. Later, however, the plant underwent an environmental impact assessment and started working.

At the end of January 2020, the company’s management undertook the procedure of conservation of the plant during the environmental impact assessment.