8 September 2020, 02:49 PM | Stanislav Sharshukov, TUT.BY
“There is a huge demand for communication and dialogue from society”, says retired Colonel of Justice Alexander Voropaev, who went to the Riga supermarket on the evening of 10 August to try to establish this very dialogue. But in the end, he received a bullet to the stomach and to the leg from a man in a special armored vehicle, after which he was taken to a military hospital in grave condition. Now Alexander is undergoing rehabilitation and is still trying to convey the need for communication between the authorities and society. He told in an interview with TUT.BY why it is so important and what the consequences of forceful methods of working with the population can be.
Initially, Voropaev did not plan to publicly speak about what happened to him on 10 August. But his neighbors told the deputy of Minsk City Council Pavel Bocharnikov about the incident, and he shared this story with us.
We met with Alexander Voropaev on the bank of the Slepyansk water system. After two surgeries and a discharge from a military hospital, the doctor recommended him to take walks at this very place. The retired colonel walks briskly, but limps a little, and when the wind lifts his shirt, a post surgery bandage is visible on his stomach. But he does not regret his choice of going to the Riga supermarket on 10 August.
“I went to Riga to prevent destructive collective behavior”
Alexander recalls how on 9 August problems with Internet connection began in Minsk, and it was difficult to find out about what is happening outside. But on the evening of 10 August, he heard a lot of conflicting information from others. As if in the area of the Riga supermarket protesters are attacking riot police, building barricades, and the security forces are shooting at them. This made an impression on the officer, because he knows what the clashes in hot spots like Tbilisi and Sumgait led to in the late 1980s.
“Therefore, I immediately went to the Riga supermarket to see everything with my own eyes and try to prevent destructive collective behavior of people, if such were there. After all, I know what mob psychology and substitution of notions are. I also know what a battered child is – whoever they might be.”
Alexander Voropaev came to the Riga supermarket at about midnight. He says he saw about 80 people there.
In his statement, addressed to the head of the department of the Investigative Committee in Minsk, Alexander writes the following: “Violations of public order were not observed, everyone was in a normal, good spirit. There were no visible signs of a riot. At the same time, particular young guys were attempting to “complete” the construction of a structure made of garbage, which prevented the passage of vehicles. Naturally, I was reassured that the rumor about riots was not true. At the same time, realizing the possible reaction of the law enforcement agencies, I spoke about the inadmissibility and the absurdity of opposing them. I proposed to sweep the trash off the road and not impede the movement of special and public transport. It was gratifying that some of the exhortations were accepted.”
“They began shooting at me just like that, as if I were a gopher”
As a result, after conversing with the retired colonel, the protesters partially removed the rubbish from the roadway and moved onto the sidewalk themselves. Alexander says that he once again was assured that people gathered there were adequate. He stayed there for only 10-15 minutes and went home along the pedestrian path near the Riga supermarket.
“Suddenly a loud signal sounded from behind, from the crossroads of Kuibyshev and Surganov streets. Having turned around, I saw a special armored vehicle in camouflage coloring turning from Kuibyshev St onto Surganov St at a speed of 30-40 kilometers per hour. The people scattered, I was alone on the sidewalk. To prevent law enforcement officials from mistaking me for a person who could potentially threaten their safety or the safety of citizens, I raised my hands and began to kneel down. I kept my palms open so that it was clear that I had nothing in my hands. The sidewalk where I stood was well lit, I was facing the special armored vehicle,” says the aforementioned statement of Alexander.
At that moment, a man in uniform appeared from the hatch on the roof of the vehicle and targetedly shot at Alexander Voropaev two times, hitting the stomach and leg with rubber bullets, he writes in a statement. The result (and the diagnosis) – a blind penetrating gunshot wound of the abdomen with damage to the jejunum and the greater omentum, plus – injury to the left leg. Alexander thanks the young man who provided first aid, as well as the doctors of the military hospital.
The distance between him and the shooter was about 20 meters, says the retired colonel. Therefore, he believes that he has become a victim of unacceptable ardor from the shooter and the complete unlawfulness of his actions. He asks the Investigative Committee to establish the identity of the shooter and give a legal assessment of his activity. He also wrote a statement to the prosecutor’s office.
“The use of weapon was completely illegal, because I was alone and in full view. And they began shooting at me just like that, as if I were a gopher. I have been protecting the state and the people for 25 years – and for me it is simply beyond acceptable. Moreover, he would not have hit me if I had not been a person brought up to respect the law, and would not have thought that the police are the body which protects me. Then I would just walk away from the shot. Yes, of course, you can say that I should have sat at home with my civil position. On the other hand, maybe my civil position saved someone from a bullet.”
“There is no need to deploy riot control means against citizens, only dialogue”
Now, after spending seven days in a military hospital, Alexander Voropaev is undergoing rehabilitation. But he is worried not so much about what happened to him personally, but about what is generally happening in the country. He says that he is not a supporter of anyone, but is an adherent of the Belarusian statehood, which should not be tied to a specific person.
“The interests of the state are the interests of the people. Whatever for are we to break the legs of, say, an employee of the Minsk Tractor Plant, if he can not come to work tomorrow? Why should normal relations end in the country? Have we lived to the point that in the 21st century everything has to be solved with the help of a brick and a baton? There was no need to deploy riot control means against citizens at all. Only dialogue!”
Who should have led the dialogue with the protesters? OMON commanders?
“I knew and still know dozens of professionals, starting from district police officers to the operativists, who will come out and at least just talk to people. And this will already take out the heat. But what we get is – women walk on the sidewalk of an avenue, and riot police block their way and say that they are breaking the law. What is the law? Why can’t people walk in their country? If they would say at least that they were ordered not to let people through for their own safety. Some of the protesters would not have obeyed them, while others would have obeyed.”
But you don’t think that, given the level of mistrust, most people would still not listen?
“But we can’t even check it, because there was no communication! And if police officers cannot solve complex problems in difficult conditions, then they are not fit to work in the police, but rather in a library or at a factory.”
“Our common task is to protect people and not split society”
But, despite everything, society is not only ready, but also waiting for a dialogue, Alexander Voropaev is convinced. Pavel Bocharnikov adheres to the same point of view. As an example, a retired colonel cites the active communication of people with the presidential aide near the cordon of security forces near the Palace of Independence.
“Did you see the thirst, which the people began communicating with him? But a normal dialogue did not take place, because there is no understanding that a dialogue between the people and officials does not equate to a betrayal of the country’s leader. And dialogue will at least help the authorities understand the aspirations of the people. Dialogue is a vital necessity. Life requires dialogue.”
Does it not seem to you that this dialogue is impossible without the go-ahead of Alexander Lukashenko?
“No. Dialogue is possible and it has already begun. For example, individual deputies have already taken up the task, because they have a soul, a conscience and they understand state interests. And I also want to remind you that the creative initiative of the masses gave birth to the Soviets in due time. And these sprouts do not need to be extinguished.”
Alright, what should the dialogue begin with?
“We need to understand and look over all statements about the use of force. Investigative work is a very serious thing, and it should start immediately. Because more than six thousand people have been detained and not a single case has been opened yet.
If this is not done, the consequences will be dire,” says the retired colonel.
“The worst thing is when hatred towards one police officer or a certain category of police officers develops into a loss of trust in all authorities.”
But so far, unfortunately, instead of dialogue, the authorities continue to make mistakes. For example, Alexander does not understand why it was necessary to drive armored personnel carriers into the city.
“Why do we need such riot police, that it must be protected by armored personnel carriers? There is not a single overturned trash bin – what kind of batons and armored personnel carriers are needed here? It is enough for one normal district policeman to come up and say: ‘Hey lads, let’s talk.’ And if someone does not have enough self-control, then, I repeat, there is no need to work in the police. I understand the interest of the authorities, I understand the people’s demand for democracy, but it is not acceptable for responsible persons to behave in such a way – you are endangering the state! And our common task is to protect people, not to split the society.”
Do you not think that the position of the authorities is in many ways such as to extinguish the protest with more forceful methods?
“In Mexico they say: they thought that they would bury us in the ground, but they did not know that we were seeds. The question arises: do the security officials not understand that the force of action is equal to the force of reaction?”