Report from rebellious Minsk
11 August 2020 | Proekt.
It’s already the second day that Belarusian citizens gather on the streets to protest against president Alexander Lukashenko. “Proekt” reporter spent evening and night together with the disagreeing in Minsk and tells how protests become more and more vehement.
Name of the author of this article is hidden due to security reasons. Obscene language warning.
How the protest moved to suburbs
Stepan leaves his house in the center of Minsk, Victory square at 7 p.m; he wants to meet his friends and go protesting together. But it seems very hard to coordinate the meeting. Internet is practically not working both in the city and in country in general; people call each other and form small groups. Stepan can’t reach his friends so we go to their house.
People in Minsk are afraid of doorbells. Just before us, a man tries to ring the doorbell but no one opens and then a head appears in the doorway and starts to swear: “Call me on the phone, not door, I nearly sh*t myself.”
Stepan, while getting to his friend’s floor, shouts: “Open up, it’s me, not KGB.”
But his friend is not there. His other friends are not getting in touch as well; he says that they could throw away their Sim cards not to be located. During the last couple of days, or maybe even years, people learnt how to be partisans. Stepan is just 25 but he already knows how to check if there are any “busiks” in the backyard (this is how belarusians call blue police vans into which police in civilian clothes put people), install VPN to his neighbours, and now even how to hide from stun grenade and rubber bullets.
City center looks like from a disaster movie: everything is blocked, no people, silence. Nezavisimosti avenue is blocked from cars, police trucks are on both sides of the road. Metro to the center of the city doesn’t operate.
At 8 pm riot police officers don’t pay any attention to us but do the warm-up as before sport training. We run into the only working bar in the backyard, they give us some water and access to the Internet: “They arrested our cook so, unfortunately, we can’t give you any food”. Bartenders say that they will join protests on the streets later: “He is f**ed up (Lukashenko), he understands that and that’s why he makes all this sh*t”.
Many protesters tried to get to Nemiga street, where it all started recently. But it is blocked from all sides with riot police OMON and trucks, so not many people are there. We see elderly people and families with children, a lot of them are clapping their hands and shouting “Shame”. By 9 pm “grabbing” begins on Nemiga: the riot police begin detaining everyone making no distinction.
We are lucky enough to get on the bus in time to break into residential areas. By 9 pm, it becomes clear that the majority of people remain in their own neighborhoods, because they simply can’t get to the center.
People on the bus are emotional, one man in his 50s yells from the window: “Bastards, scum, who are you protecting, damn you.” People on the bus start discussing that Lukashenko will put his son Kolya “on the throne” and “Kolya will bury everyone”.
Due to the lack of Internet, people do not know where to gather. Only by 10 o’clock in the evening we find ourselves on the avenue that leads to Pushkinskaya metro station, that will be one of the main arenas for fighting this night. A crowd of a thousand people is moving in with us from the center.
This part of the city is an ordinary residential area with rare shopping centers on the sides and public gardens for walking with dogs and children. People are still walking past with grocery bags, but there is already a war around: something explodes behind the houses from time to time, and you can hear gunshots. A child with a frightened sheepdog accidentally comes out of the entrance hall and people shout to him to return home as soon as possible. From the first sight it seems that it is safe in the backyards, but soon government security services throw gas grenades even there, just under the windows. It is almost no lights and people scatter in different dimensions and OMON follows them.
People are hiding on the loans and under the trees. The gas is sprayed almost constantly, but everyone realizes soon that you shouldn’t breathe and touch your eyes. We are moistening our masks with dew and running forward. We are standing still halfway: in front of us in the other district behind the OMON cordon people are lighting up fireworks – they get the flashbang grenades in return. The people get the applause for that.
In the meantime other people are trying to erect barricades near the subway. They get harsh resistance – this time besides the grenades we get the rubber bullets. It all happens near the porches, on the playground, the balconies are attacked by the grenades as well. Ambulances are running between the houses, but people yell that they are occupied by the riot police.
How the encounter became harsh
We are hiding under the giant pine and suddenly get the information that soldiers are coming. Someone says that APCs (armoured personnel carriers) and enormous amounts of military enginery are coming into Minsk and specifically into our district. In some time, we really see the soldiers – they are sent to check the yards. At the same time people tell each other that there is one victim and many injured on the avenue – ambulances are not calming down for a second. The peculiarity of the second day is that the police are not trying to detain anyone, they are just beating people brutally and hard.
Sometimes people try to yell to the Special Forces “Police are with the nation» but they get grenades as a reply. “Bitches, you’ve pledged for people not Lukashenko” – a man is yelling with a hoarse voice. Police disperse people, the yards are full of minivans with shooting Special Forces. Hide behind the trees, run between the cars – that’s the advice we get from Stepan. There is no light in the yards, but the police are inspecting it with the lamps. It all reminds us of a bad military movie – you couldn’t imagine a few days before, that you’ll have to crawl on the grass, listening to every whistle.
In the local chats people post the information on the nearest entrances, where the protesters can hide. Stepan says that he got five different texts with the house numbers on the Pushkinskaya. We are running towards one of them and we are greeted by the hosts with food and water. We see one more protester hiding here because he can’t return home due to overlapped roads. People in the apartment discuss that there probably will be martial law tomorrow in Minsk. Nobody thinks of anything else and says: “Martial law is no different from how we live now”.