“Bitch, spread your legs wider!”

Women Beaten and Humiliated at Akrescina Detention Centre

Dozens of women arrested on August 9-12 endured beatings and humiliation at Akrescina Detention Centre.

16 August 2020, 18:19 | Elena Spasiuk, Naviny

Alena Scherbinskaya (Dubovik), a journalist and mother of three, endured beatings and humiliation at Akrescina Detention Centre. Currently, she is hospitalised. She is not giving up and will be seeking legal recourse together with other women from cell #9 of the detention centre for psychological and physical abuse used against them. They are looking to prosecute the female prison guard who was sadistic in her treatment of detainees.

Alena Scherbinskaya (Dubovik)
Source: Naviny

Were you detained at the protest on August 10?

No. On the evening of August 10, I finished work after taking a photo of a law enforcement officer who pointed a gun at a woman and interviewing that woman. Then I tried to leave the hotspot; it was around 10 p.m.

I walked to the Frunzenskaya metro station and realised that I was being followed by a plainclothes agent — a man wearing a black mask. I got scared, took a sharp turn and ran towards the apartment buildings. I buzzed a random apartment in a red house on Tankovaya street and said that I was a journalist and that I was being followed. A woman let me in; she shared her wifi password with me, and I sent my videos.

Half an hour later, I decided to go home and called Vitalij Dubik, the cameraman with whom I work the most often, but I couldn’t reach him. I called his wife Tatjana Belashova; she was not far from me. On the way home, we decided to stop at the Central District’s Office of Internal Affairs to inquire about her husband.

There, we met doctor Andrej Vitushka and his wife Kristina Vitushka who, like many parents that night, were looking for their son. Tatjana decided to file a missing person report because there was no information about Vitalij. Just as Tatjana finished writing the report, riot police (OMON) pulled up in two or three police trucks.

We did not expect this would happen to us. It’s unimaginable: we go to a police station to file a missing person report and the police detain us. We were grabbed, very violently, and led away. This was at 10:38 p.m.

In total, about 20 people were arrested. The Vitushkas were with me in the police truck, and Kristina was in the same cell at the detention centre later. At some point, men and women were separated. Tanja Belashova and I ended up in the same prisoner compartment (known colloquially as a “glass”, a windowless compartment for one person, no bigger than half a square metre — Naviny); she sat on my lap. There was horror all around us: blood on the walls, no air to breathe. We were taken to Akrescina Detention Centre. Our belongings were taken; I had a large sum of money, a substantial sum. Nobody documented anything.

I repeated several times that I was a journalist, but no one paid any attention.

During the full body search, I met for the first time the female prison guard about whom, it seems to me, everyone is writing now. Her name is Kristina or Karina. Long hair, blonde, aged 30-35.

What did she do?

She was very cruel. She cursed, called me personally the most degrading names. She asked women: “Had enough of protesting?” She shoved me in the back, forced me to bend over too far and squat naked, ripped the insoles of my sneakers.

Women in the cell told me that she was the one who forced women on their periods to rip out their sanitary napkins, in order to make sure that nothing was hidden under them.

No feminine hygiene products were available there. One girl tore up her cloak and distributed pieces of fabric among women on their periods. The fabric did not last long, and they used toilet paper. That also ran out. The prison guard walked along the corridor, tore off pieces of toilet paper, and passed it into the cells. We had a plastic bottle and water; we tried to wash up somehow.

Kristina (or Karina) humiliated everyone. For reasons that were never made clear, they took us out of the cell several times and lined us up against the wall. If our legs were not spread wide apart enough, she came up and kicked the insides of our lower legs, saying: “Bitch, spread your legs wider.” One woman on her period told Kristina that she could not spread her legs any wider because she was menstruating, but the prison guard kicked her in the legs, saying that should not prevent her from spreading her legs wider. Well… you get the picture; the makeshift sanitary napkin dropped to the floor…

There was a horrible stench in the cell, but by the third day, we shared with each other that we’d stopped noticing it.

Kristina (or Karina) kicked me in the stomach. She demanded that I bend over low with my hands behind my back and my legs spread wide apart. If, in her opinion, you did not bend over low enough, she’d hit you on the back.

I was put on trial, during which I submitted several requests and refused to sign the paperwork that said I had been arrested at the Riga shopping centre. I was taken out into the corridor, and that prison guard Kristina (or Karina) started beating me again — kneeing me in the stomach and showering me with curses that defy translation into proper language. Her point was that she was dissatisfied with my resistance.

It was she who, after the first search at the detention centre, pushed me out into the corridor in only my bra and unbuttoned pants. In the corridor, there were naked men kneeling with their foreheads against the wall, hands behind their backs. And on the walls there were blood stains, drops of blood on the floor. Somewhere, someone was screaming, someone was moaning, the prison guards were yelling.

Please tell us, what were the conditions in your cell?

When I tried to speak up at Akrescina to say that Kristina Vitushka was ill, she has diabetes, and that she is the wife of a famous doctor, someone replied to me that “wives of famous doctors with diabetes do not hang around protests”. Kristina tried to remain as strong as she could. We were held in cell #9 of the detention centre.

On August 10, there were 15 of us in a 4-person, 10-square-metre cell, but overnight the number grew to 30. Later, we realised that 30 people in such a cell was like a resort. We could lie down on the bunk beds, two or three to a bed; we could lie down under the bunk beds, on the table, under the table; someone rested on a nightstand. We put blankets and pillows (four of each for all of us) on the floor and people slept crammed like sardines.

But later, when more women were brought in from other cells, and there were more than fifty of us, we could not even sit down; many of us had to stand.

We asked to keep the slot in the door (through which food was delivered) open. Some prison guards opened it, but some said: “You’ll be fine. You won’t die.”

Did they feed you?

I was arrested on the night of August 10, and the first time I was given gruel was the morning of August 12. Everyone was miserable, but Kristina Latushka suffered the most. She was at the stage where insulin wasn’t necessary — she needed to eat something to raise her blood sugar.

Through the slot in the door, we started to plead with an employee for a piece of bread. Maybe the employee was a kitchen worker, maybe a cook. She said that if she could feed everyone, she would. I explained to her that she didn’t need to; she just needed to give one person a piece of bread. She replied that she would be punished for it, but she brought half a loaf of bread, and Kristina could eat.

The rest of us were all given gruel on August 12, and the second time in the morning on August 13. Once a day. We collected this gruel in plastic jars that were in the cell with an understanding that more people who had been starved for a long time would be brought in. And that is what happened. All the gruel was eaten because starving people were coming in.

Now, when I talk about this food, I am nauseated at the thought that it could be eaten, but we ate it.

You were released on the evening of August 13. What happened next?

I understood that we had it rough, but we did not have to experience what men who were beaten with police truncheons endured. I saw a woman with a swollen leg, and no one called an ambulance for her. I think Kristina Vitushka suffered greatly. I would have been fine if the prison guard had not kicked me in the stomach.

I almost collapsed at home on August 14; my husband caught me. He took me to the clinic, and they referred me to the gynaecology department at the 5th City Clinical Hospital. They decided that there was no ovarian rupture, which was suspected, and sent me to Minsk Emergency Hospital.

Now, I have health problems which are related to the beatings and lack of water and food. I have back problems.

What are you planning to do next?

I have filed a police report about what happened to me to the District Office of Internal Affairs of the Leninsky district (where my home address is registered). The delivery of the report was confirmed. I want to resolve the matter strictly legally and I am determined to do everything I can to bring to justice the female prison guard who made the lives of the detainees unbearable.

We plan to file a joint complaint to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus and the Attorney General’s Office. My goal is to use due process to bring her to justice.

At first, I was afraid of my feelings towards this woman. I was consumed by hatred that I have never felt before. Now, I just want one thing: I want her to be prosecuted and banned from working with people. She has to serve time in prison.

At the same time, I am outraged by the actions of those spreading information about women working at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and insinuating that they have committed crimes. I have not recognised the prison guard Kristina (or Karina) in any of the photos that are being circulated on social networks. I would like to appeal to people: let’s not stoop to lynching, let’s not persecute people.