Incredible footage that became history of modern Belarus.
Exactly six months have passed since the hot day of August 9, 2020 – the day of the August presidential elections and the start of the unprecedented lawlessness of the security forces.
A few days before the elections, on August 6, DJs Kiryl Halanau and Ulad Sakalouski played Tsoi’s song “Changes” at an official event in the Kyiv square and then raised their hands with white ribbons. While the head of the district personally tried to pull the wires out of the speakers, the audience watched with admiration the guys who were immediately nicknamed “DJs of change.” Soon, their stylized stencil image appeared on the wall in the so-called “courtyard of change” and became recognizable even without the detailed facial features of the guys. Graffiti with DJs was painted in many places in Belarus and abroad.
But this happened only later. And that time, they were detained, sentenced to ten days of arrest, and sent to Akrestsina Street. One of the guys later stated that Barsukou, then the deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, personally came to his beating chamber. After the release, the guys left for Lithuania.
– I did not take an active position. Yes, I watched the news, followed Tsikhanouskaya, admired when the three headquarters united: it looked strong and beautiful. I thought that I would go to the last election rally if I was free. That is, I understood what was happening but did not actively participate in it. What we did was just a demonstration of a passive position. We only showed that we had nothing to do with what happened that day in the Kyiv park. It seems that this would be the most effective option if everyone who does something unfair and dirty did not do it.
On the first day of the post-election protests, August 9, in the place where Lenin Street over the bridge flows into Peramozhtsau Avenue, a cordon of AMAP officers with shields lined up – they blocked the entire roadway from the sports complex to the Alesya store on the other side. At some point, an electric scooter drove out to the security forces, on which there were a guy and a girl in a wedding dress. A couple in white swept back and forth in front of the soldiers and got into many photographs. The photo was included in the selection of the best photos of the month and the year by Esquire magazine.
The girl in the dress is named Yulia; she is 26 years old. She is from Babruisk, and she lived with her boyfriend in Minsk. She studied as a hairdresser in Babruisk, then moved to the capital, worked in her specialty for many years, and then began to paint.
– My friends found vintage dresses somewhere, and when I saw that wedding dress, I think: wow, amazing! Then I will definitely go out because I will show the beauty and feminine power in such a beautiful dress. Women are good, love, and light. And it was really great that the dress actually found me.
On that day, the couple rode a scooter, then took part in the processions on foot and calmly got home, avoiding “khapun.” The next day, they began to send Yulia a photo on a scooter, she posted it on Instagram and then deleted it, fearing that she would be identified. At the end of August, the couple left the country. Yulia parted ways with her boyfriend; she stayed to live and work in Kyiv.
This photo of Vasily Fedosenko for Reuters became one of the most famous shots of the first night of protests in Belarus. The picture was taken on the night of 9-10 August near the stele “Minsk – Hero City,” where the most massive arrests of protesters took place.
The detainee in the photo is Yauhen Zaichkin, who was named dead on the first night of the protests, but it soon became clear that Zaichkin was alive. The RT TV channel published an interview with an employee of the Interior Ministry troops, who was allegedly the security officer in the balaklava. Later it was established: the security officer’s name is Tsimur Hryshko.
– We had one detainee. As it turned out later, he had alcoholic and very strong drug intoxication. They just told us later: “Thank God that they found us, doctors, because there could be trouble.” […] He lay down on the ground. I’m trying to revive him. And right there, on the right, about 50 meters away, people are standing and shouting: “Let him go!” I tell them that I provide him with medical assistance, but they do not hear. The people just went crazy. Then I get up, take my hands away from him, show: I let him go – and now what? And he just lies. And they don’t know what to say. Realizing that there was no help from the people, I told my comrade to run after the doctors.
If he was beaten, it was the situation when he jumped on the shields. […] They with their group accelerated and jumped on guys with shields. […] Accordingly, he got hit several times, and we pulled him to our car. He was sitting in the car, and then he got sick.
But the victim, Zaichkin, denied that he was in a state of alcoholic and drug intoxication during his detention. He provided tut.by with an extract from the ambulance hospital, where he was taken that evening. “Closed craniocerebral trauma of mild severity, concussion, and contused wound of the upper lip. Distortion of the capsular ligamentous apparatus of the cervical spine,” the document says. It says nothing about alcohol and drugs.
Later, it became known that this security officer was abandoned by his wife, the bodybuilding champion of the Republic of Belarus Lilia Salimgareeva. As she said, it was due to bullying. The divorce took place on October 20.
The picture was taken on the second day of the protests and immediately flew around the world Internet. Photographer Volha Shukayla said:
– In the evening of August 10, on Peramozhtsau Avenue in Minsk – at its very beginning, in the area of Nemiha Street. For some time, the protesters and AMAP walked wall to wall, but did not come out to the avenue itself; they walked along the sidewalks. Suddenly I noticed that people began to go out into the street and line up in a chain. At some point, I realized that it was possible to take a general shot – and I saw women. There were probably five of them.
They joined hands and stood in the front row. Usually, the guys got into the couplings, and, in principle, men went out into the street. And then the women stood up. I took a few shots and realized that everything was shot; there were shots, and I went on to shoot more.
The photograph shows very different women – young and old. They have different emotions – both a frightened look and an inspired one. To us, the state channels broadcast the idea that the protests are attended by “thugs, crazy from Maidan,” some kind of marginal individuals. […] And these are just women – adequate, normal. This could be your sister, neighbor, or mom. They have no aggression; in their eyes, there are fear, determination, and courage.
On August 14, on the sixth day of mass protests in Belarus, a crowd of thousands gathered on Independence Square in Minsk. They gathered without an answer to the question: will they be detained and beaten today? Surprisingly, there were no arrests. The security officials stood with their shields down to their feet. They treated the protesters with the utmost correctness, even when they were at first timid, and then more and more freely began to offer flowers and even hug people in uniform. On that day, a lot of photographs with fraternizations were made, especially the girl in a red dress who was remembered by those present.
There were no clashes on the square that day, and at dusk, the protesters dispersed and cleaned up after themselves. A perfect picture of what peaceful protests should look like in a democratic country.
On the evening of August 26, people traditionally gathered for a peaceful protest on Independence Square. At about 20:30, AMAP came to the square and began to disperse people. Some of them hid in the Red Church; then, the security forces blocked the doors of the church. There were about 20 people in the church. In addition, there were already parishioners in the building who came to the service and had nothing to do with the action. People were able to leave the church only after 40 minutes; the square was already empty by that time, and several security officials patrolled the territory. Some of the people who remained in the square were rounded up, after which a paddy wagon drove up and the arrests began. Tadevush Kandrusevich sharply condemned this trick of the security forces, after which he himself began to have problems: he was not allowed to enter Belarus for several months.
The Associated Press has published a selection of the best images for 2020. Among them is a shot of a photojournalist who also shot for Nasha Niva, taken during the March of Peace and Independence on August 30. The author of the shot, Nadzeya Buzhan, said:
– Then there was such a tendency that after the march, resting against the cordon of the security forces, for some time, people did not disperse, stood and talked, hung out, in a word. The weather was fine, but suddenly it started raining heavily. I remember that the water flow was so strong that I had to shake the water off the camera. The rain was deafening. In this rain, three girls suddenly emerged from the crowd. Two of them approached the police cordon and began kissing, and the third began to photograph them on the phone. I think it was such an act of courage, a shocking act inspired by the atmosphere of the past march. But I still hesitate to draw final conclusions. I joined this photo session. The girls noticed me but continued to kiss without showing aggression towards me. They didn’t mind that I was photographing them.
The snapshot of frightened women pinned to the wall has become just one of the many illustrations of the “universal love” of ordinary Belarusians for the security forces. Photography has several varieties. Evgeny Erchak said:
– On September 8, a march was held in Minsk in support of all those detained at the protests – and, in particular, Maryia Kalesnikava, whom they tried to transport across the border to Ukraine, but failed. People first gathered on the square near Kamarouski market […]. At the very beginning, about 10 people were detained. And then people went to the city center, to Independence Avenue. We walked along narrow streets, so the column, in which there were up to a thousand people, stretched out in a long narrow chain for half a kilometer. At some point, buses with no license plates with security forces arrived, and the arrests began. Someone tried to escape; the rest broke into dense groups at the former Gorizont plant’s fence. I shot one of these groups.
The main detentions were in the center of the column; there were soldiers everywhere. More precisely, I do not know who it was: people in military uniform with balaclavas on their heads without identification marks. They were either police officers or employees of other power structures. This is an innovation of the last few days – there were no such people on the streets before. […] And then several people in military uniforms began to push people against the wall – although in reality they did not push, but tried to pull people out of the hitch.
I took this shot and moved on. I don’t know what exactly happened to these people: someone was detained, someone left.
A traditional women’s procession took place on Saturday, September 19. Having gathered, the column of women moved along Very Kharuzhei and Maksima Bahdanovicha streets to Bangalore Square, where it turned to Surhanava Street. Many protesters walked along Kuibyshava. About two thousand people took part in the action, called the “Brilliant March.” According to human rights activists, about 400 of them were detained. The main arrests began to take place in the area of the intersection of Surhanava and Yakuba Kolasa. Moreover, the security forces detained so many women and girls that they simply did not fit into the paddy wagons. As a result, the “extra” AMAP officers were forced to release.
Photo by tut.by and Radio Svaboda includes photographer, stylist, and model Aiaksandra Varabyova. Franak Viachorka said: “It looks like an advertisement for Gucci,” they wrote on the Internet that Aiaksandra is the heroine of one of the possible alternative covers of Vogue. She herself described her detention as follows:
– Trends of 2020 in Belarus, or a photo of our detention. It doesn’t matter what you are wearing and what goals you pursue when walking the streets with or without friends. They will lead you or shove you to the paddy wagon with a high probability. And it’s good if without violence.
Friends, thank you very much to each of you for the excitement and the sea of pleasant messages. I never thought that my detention could cause such resonance and attract the attention of so many people. It was a very unpleasant but practically painless vaccination against fear – I even felt pride that my psyche did not give out any tantrums in a stressful moment, and the phone was promptly cleaned with shaking hands.
I understand that we were treated very tactfully yesterday. And this does not compare with what other people experienced during the protests. But the very fact of the global situation in the country brings a lot of pain. We are proud, brave, beautiful people. And nothing can trample our dignity. Until this year, Belarusians did not suspect, they can be somewhat strong. And the realization of this already gives hope.
The next day, September 20, another march took place in Minsk. Again it was “vintilovo” and “khapun,” and again, many wonderful Belarusians were caught in the lenses of the journalists. On the Polish website of the Forum agency, there were pictures of a girl who calmly smokes surrounded by AMAP who detained her and even offers them a cigarette. The picture was taken by Valery Sharifulin from TASS / Scanpix. Photos scattered across the Internet and became the basis for many memes.
The girl was detained at about six in the evening near the Academy of Sciences. Yana told reporters:
– I was already going home, after the rally, to the stop. Well, it turns out that a little did not reach. I lit a cigarette and saw with peripheral vision that two AMAP were flying up from behind. They grabbed my arms. I didn’t resist. What is the point for me to resist? I told them at once: do not pull me – I will go myself. But they kept pulling me. And I go so imposingly because I understand that this is my last cigarette in the coming days. It was so offensive: I had just lit a cigarette.
According to the protocol, I tore some major Liubimau’s clothes during the arrest and resisted climbing into the paddy wagon. By this protocol, it seemed that I was some kind of violent madman. All of us – and there were five girls in the Savetski district police department – had the same protocols. And we all allegedly resisted this long-suffering Major Liubimau.
Yana spent the night in the Zhodzina SIZO, and the next day at the court, she was able to prove that she did not resist the arrest, but she was found guilty for participating in an unauthorized event. The result is a fine of 135 rubles. Yana found out that her photos had become a meme on the evening of September 21, when she returned from Zhodzina to Minsk.
– The volunteers who are on duty near Zhodzina took me home. I have a few meters left before the entrance, and then a message arrives from my friend – this photo. I laughed, and then it started – like the dam burst. And these photos came from each iron. I did not expect this absolutely. Then I didn’t even know that someone was taking pictures of me. And such resonance and so many words of support – this is something incredible.
Since then, thousands of photographs taken during and after the Belarusian protests have scattered around the world. One of the most recent is from yesterday’s trial of Katsiaryna Andreeva and Darya Chultsova. The journalists of Belsat are accused of coordinating the actions of the protesters with their online broadcast, urging people to come to the “Courtyard of Changes,” because of which the streets were blocked, and Minsktrans suffered colossal losses. The girls face up to three years in prison.