A story of police brutality in Minsk
13 August 2020 | Proekt
A victim of police violence gives a detailed account of what he had to go through for taking part in peaceful protests against the presidential election fraud.
Trigger warning: the text contains profanity and descriptions of violent scenes. The author’s name is withheld for his safety. After the interview, one of the victim’s friends shared the story on his Facebook page.
Proekt publishes the story of a 26-year-old citizen of Minsk, who was detained by the police special forces during a protest on 10 August and then went through severe tortures. For safety reasons, we do not disclose the geographical details of the detention or his real name. Proekt cannot fully verify “Evgeny’s” testimony; however, we have registered the wounds and bruises that he was talking about. His story is partially supported by the statements of his friends who took part in the protests together with him.
My friends and I were walking from one of the squares in Minsk towards where we thought people would be (i.e. protesters – Proekt). It took place on 10 August. I had a backpack with respirators, masks, gloves and spray paint on me. We were glad to find a group of about 100 people and together we started moving towards one of the city’s residential areas. We were joined by others on our way; on the moment of arrival, there were approximately 300 of us.
Two “buses” (i.e. police trucks) showed up and stopped at a distance. People were just standing around: everyone was tired from the long walk, and not much was happening. Someone brought us some water from a pizza place nearby. We weren’t even loud, we just sat down across the trucks. Then some people moved further away from them, the group of 10 people stayed, myself included. I was hanging out with three nice adequate guys discussing the current situation. At some point, we saw a column of military vehicles start to move. There were shitloads of them, so when I saw the sixth I got up and started running. ALMAZ (i.e. Belarusian elite special forces) cops got out of two buses.
Me and some other guy hid behind a supermarket, which was suddenly surrounded and from all three sides. The cops were already smashing the cars in the supermarket’s parking lot, bringing the detained ones over and forcing them to their knees. We realized that everything was blocked with nowhere to run, so we jumped into the supermarket’s courtyard in some kind of “box”. The courtyard was situated somewhat lower, surrounded by the fence of 5 to 7 meters tall and the closed gate. The cops saw us run there but couldn’t enter at first. We rushed to the entrance of the store’s warehouse, which had a canopy you could climb on and jump over the fence. I asked the guy to help me climb over and told him that I would give him a hand after. So he pushed me, but since the canopy was made out of metal and I had nothing to cling onto, I slipped and fell. By that moment, the cops had already broken through the gate and were running towards us. We realized there was no second attempt so we ran into the shop, pushing away the loaders that were in our way. Running through the store, we were chased by armed cops, and there were still some customers inside – around 20, I guess. We reached the main entrance and had some hope that the cops had already arrested everyone and that we could somehow escape. On my way out, I saw around 20 cops outside through the window. Around 20 detainees were already on their knees, and the cops were beating the shit out of them.
Now I realize I could’ve hidden in a trash container, I could’ve run elsewhere. Under normal circumstances, you think: right, I could’ve done this, I could’ve done that. But there, it looked like you were being hunted and they had lots of special equipment, they were armed, and you’re out there just like that. With a backpack. At the store entrance, there were pillars and I hid behind one of them. There were doors and another pillar on the left and on the right, but at least you’re covered on two out of four sides. They’d gotten the other guy but couldn’t find me for about 15 minutes; they looked for me inside the store. They were checking everything. There were posters and ads glued all over the glass entrance doors with very little free space left. I saw what was happening reflected in this little square: people were on their knees and the cops were beating them. You could see me from a certain height only, you had to bend over to see me. And this guy that they were hitting was looking at me because he was just falling down already (from the blows). They were beating them and I was thinking: please, just let them leave me here and I’ll lay low for an hour more and then I’ll escape through the warehouse. And then a cop leans over this guy who was on the floor to check something, looks up and sees me. Our eyes meet and he beckons at me with his hand. That was it, I realized, they’d fuck me up.
All the customers were escorted out of the store and put on their knees. Regular customers, with five ALMAZ cops watching over them. On the left, there were also people who were getting beaten up. So it turned out I was between two rows of cops. When I walked out, I had this backpack with spray paint on me; somehow it didn’t cross my mind to get rid of it when I was running from the cops because right up to the last moment, I was sure I would somehow escape. So I went out and there were about 20 people there on the ground already; they pushed us all to the ground and threw the backpack at us, but it wasn’t clear that it was mine. So they came and started asking whose backpack it was. A cop opens it and there are masks, gloves, paint inside, and he says, “Right, so there’s a coordinator or something.” And he’s like, “Whose is it?” And I’m thinking: fuck it. I don’t know what they’ll do if they find out it’s my backpack, so I just lie still. They were beating everybody the whole time but after this, we got another round of beatings, and then they singled me and some other guy out and said it was one of us. The guy started crying and said it wasn’t him. They believed him so they started to beat me because I was silent.
Then, three cops pulled me up and led me behind the store. They pulled out a grenade and said, “Alright, this is what we’re gonna do. We’ll take the pin out and put this in your pants and leave, and your hands are tied behind your back. You blow up, we’ll say you blew up your own improvised explosive device, unless you admit the backpack is yours.” And I said, “No, guys, it isn’t mine.” They threw the grenade in, but didn’t pull the pin out. Then they came back and started kicking me in the groin. They beat me up once more and said, “OK, the backpack is yours.” I carried it with my teeth. When they’re moving you to the trucks, they beat you for no reason at all: you do what they tell you to do but they still hit you – no matter what you do.
We were taken to the police trucks and loaded in. They called me “Mr. Spray” because I had the paint with me and they said they would have a special conversation with me. First, they beat me inside the truck. There were around 20 detainees: one simply lying on top of another in layers, and you just lie on top of others. Those who were at the bottom started to suffocate; for example, there was a guy who had asthma and he told them he was suffocating. Then a cop just stepped on his neck and said, “Well, die, we don’t give a shit.”
They took me out of this truck, and there was a girl who also had a can of spray paint. They sprayed it on the ground and smeared her face against it. They slammed her face in the paint. There were other girls, 18-year-olds. They weren’t beaten as much so they would raise their heads and say something when they saw that someone was suffocating. A cop walked up to one of them when she shouted and began yelling, “Shut up, whore, fucking around at these protests like that.” Then they shaved some of her hair off and she started screaming again. They called them whores many times and said, “We’re gonna throw you in jail now, hand you over to the boys, they’ll fuck your brains out there, and then we’ll dump you in the woods and you’ll live with it.” There was a lot of psychological pressure on the girls. With the guys, they just beat them so that they couldn’t get up.
I had nothing with me: no cell phone, no ID. Those who had cell phones were forced to unlock them. If they refused, they got beaten and their phones were broken.. One guy didn’t want to unlock his phone: they stripped him naked and told him they would shove their batons up his ass. He finally unlocked it and they started reading his chats. For some reason, they were looking for non-Belarusians: if you weren’t from here, they’d hit you harder. Some foreign students got arrested by pure accident; they got them in the store. They beat them harder. They had this weird thing: they would ask you where you were from, and if you said you were from Minsk, they’d hit you again and say, “Hero City Minsk. That’s what you should say.” And they keep hitting you until you say that. Everyone learned quickly.
Then they put us in a truck where there were four riot cops who put you face down on the floor and hit you on the legs. They beat the shit out of you, on both sides: I suspected I had broken bones because my legs were all bruised. It’s hard to walk after that; you can’t actually walk, only crawl, and they hit you again and again and again, and then throw you in another truck with more people which they used to actually transport us. They step on you; you’re on the ground, one on top of another, around 20 people in total. They don’t walk on the seats, which are free, they walk right right on you. They constantly step on your neck and kick you on purpose. They took us to Stela (a neighborhood in Minsk); it seems that they have a kind of a marshaling yard there where they mix up all those they have arrested. So they brought us there, then they take you out of the truck and walk you through a sort of corridor of 40 riot cops; you’re walking and everybody’s hitting you; you can’t lift your head because if you do, they’ll hit you harder. Then they put you on a “sotka” bus (i.e. a city bus used by the police to transport detainees) where they beat you even harder. There was a moment when I fell down because my legs hurt badly and my hands were tied up by a sort of plastic strap. They hurt your arms, your arms go numb almost right away, but you can’t complain to the cops about anything because if you do, they intentionally do to you what you’re complaining about. If my arms hurt, they hit me on the arms. They wanted to find out whose backpack it was but since everyone was lying on top of each other on the floor, the whole truck was covered in paint on the inside. Then a special forces solider said, “Ok, we’ll fuck everyone up one more time.”
Then they grabbed me by the arms and legs and threw me into the “sotka”. I fell. I was told to crawl somewhere; I started to crawl as far as I could with my hands tied behind my back. Naturally, if you’re slow, they hit you.
There are two types of batons: some are made of rubber, others have a metal rod inside. They are given to officers, who supposedly use them more carefully and won’t hurt anyone. I was lying inside that bus and doing everything I was told, I did not move. I understood that when they beat you, it’s not a situation where you can lift your head up high and say, “I’m against this,” they’d just fucking kill you. I was lying still, piled on all those people, and then he came up to me – this guy with a special baton – stepped on me and started hitting me on the head with this stick with a metal rod. And you know, after the first blow your ears start ringing and you don’t really feel it anymore, you’re already in a vacuum. After some blows, he slashed my head apparently, but I didn’t feel anything, I didn’t even understand it at first. Then he just left and I was stuck somewhere under other people. And you lie there suffocating, but on the other hand, you can feel that they’re beating others somewhere on top. And you think: I don’t know which is better – to be suffocating here or to be up there where they beat you.
Then they took us out of that bus again, threw us into another police truck, and walked us through a corridor of 40 cops who beat us again. There was a “box” truck designed for three people, but they loaded 10 people in there: we were all crushed against each other; I was pushed against the wall and only then did I see my blood on the wall and realize that my head was bleeding. Too many people, the heat was bad, I started to faint. The guys started shouting, saying that there was someone who was bleeding and about to faint and that they had to get him out, but the cops said, “We don’t give a fuck.” So I was in this truck, you’re standing there, you can’t sit; at some point I started leaning on some guy and pressed down on his chest. He had trouble breathing and he said there was someone who’d fainted and was weighing down on him. I heard this and tried to move back, but I was vomiting and suffocating. We got to Akrestsina prison and I literally fell out of the truck and fainted. The cops said that “that guy is done”, dragged me to some lawn and left me there because I was covered in blood. They stood over me, trying to figure out whether I was already dead or not: “What, is he dead?” And another one said to him, “No, no, looks like he’s alive.” They stood there for a while and left.
They put the others who’d been detained on their knees and beat them until they were taken inside (the prison). I was conscious and could hear what was happening around me: you just hear people screaming. I was lying on the ground; an ambulance worker approached me and saw that I was conscious, but she told the cops that I was unconscious. They left me alone – I lay in the prison yard for about an hour; I could hear they were bringing more people in. They said some of them were organizers, not of the protests, but of election observer teams. They marked observers and activists with red paint and beat them separately, more severely. Like, they put a red mark on them or something. I think these people were taken away to be tortured. A medic came up to me and whispered to me that everything would be alright. I started to shake; they thought I was having a seizure and then finally, an ambulance came. The cops watched me till the very last moment and said that maybe I was feigning it; they pushed me and tore my bracelet off. The ambulance agreed to take me in because of my head wound. At that moment, I felt joy: how good it was that they’d smashed my head, I was lucky because they torture people there.
The medics took me away and started asking what had happened. They swore at the cops and told me everything would be fine – I just had to be quiet because before leaving the prison, you’re checked by the local physician, who’s a monster and might not let you out. The cops asked me what my last name was but all that time, it was as if I was unconscious. I didn’t reply and had no ID on me. and they just let me go and said, “OK, unidentified.” I started begging the medics to take me home, not to the hospital, because I was afraid they’d take me to a military hospital. They said they would take me to a hospital that wouldn’t give me away. In the morning, they let me go home.
It’s very scary when you’re in prison.. You’re scared to stay there. It really is a concentration camp. Once you get there, you’ll come out with your brain totally fucked up. I still haven’t fully realized what it was, I think I’ll only understand it after some time. Also, when they beat me, I thought for a very long time about leaving [Belarus] because you understand that you have zero chance in this country, you can get killed and no one will give a fuck, you can’t prove anything, ever. No one will face charges – this is what’s scary. It’s easier to jump off a fence and break your leg because what’s happening in Akrestsina prison is terror.