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Belarusian authorities create illusion of control, regular people say

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Sisters Yulia and Hanna Mikhailau / TUT.by / home archive

"As one of my good acquaintances said, even the benches in the courtroom believed in the innocence of your relatives," Hanna Mikhailava told Euroradio. On April 6, her sister Yulia as well as her brother Pyotr, who was with her at the time (was heading to programming courses) was detained for walking with a white umbrella on Pobediteley Avenue in Minsk (the protocol says "white-red-white"). Later, the police came to their home with a search, followed by a series of detentions of Hanna's other relatives: Tatsiana's mother, Uladzimir's father, and her sister Liliya. The girl fears she may become next.

Yulia Mikhailava / Euroradio

"Despite the fact that I have not committed any offense, for some reason they want to bring me to administrative responsibility," Yulia said to Euroradio.

What happened

Hanna Mikhailava: My mother was at home alone. She has serious problems with her lungs - fibrosis - and her state of health has deteriorated due to anxiety. My sister Liliya, who lives nearby, came to our house to make sure she was okay and was also detained. After the search, my mother was taken to the police department on the grounds that her daughter was participating in protests. 

My sister, who has two minor children, was released after the protocol was drawn up, and Yulia, Pyotr, and Mom were taken to the Akrestsina street. The next day there was a trial. 

My mom believed to the very last moment that she would be released: she said that the officers who detained her were friendly. She always sees the best in people. Yulia was sentenced to 25 days, Pyotr to six and my mother to five, despite the fact that being in jail with her illness is a real torture. 

The day after I was detained, law enforcement officers came to our house again, this time for an inspection, and handed my father a summons to the police department. My sister's home was searched, too. She was also summoned to the police department. During the police interview with my father and sister they tried to find out my whereabouts. 

Now it's hard to say what will happen next. I think that the situation that happened in my family is a clear example of what the current authorities are willing to do to keep people in fear and create the illusion of control over the situation. 

Seven brothers and sisters

Euroradio: Tell us about your family. What do you believe in? What do you have in common?

Hanna Mikhailava: My parents have seven children in the family. Our parents have taught us Christian values from childhood and how to value what we have and try to teach us positive qualities. I think they did a good job of that.  

Children in the Mikhailau family / archive

We all have a small age difference, I'm the youngest daughter and I'm 25, and my older sister is 37. I think this has contributed to the friendly relationship we have and my siblings and I often spend time together. 

Our father comes from a large family, so there's a lot of siblings. I think what unites us first and foremost is the very fact that we are all one big family. Politics has never been a cause of disagreement or conflict at home, but there are a few relatives who support the current government. At the moment, I prefer not to communicate with them. 

The main motivation is the Belarusians, who are now in jail

Euroradio: What is your attitude towards the events happening in the country? 

Hanna Mikhailava: I am sincerely proud of many Belarusians. I believe we have not yet fully realized how much we have done. On the other hand, we have a long road ahead of us and no one knows how many people will be subject to repression by the current government, there are many hopes and many fears, but I always want to believe in the best. 

I remember a story that happened during the Solidarity Bike Ride. When the event was nearing its end, one of the guys suggested that we take a different route. The guys who were directing us happened to be law enforcement officers in plain clothes, and we arrived at pre-arranged points where riot police and military personnel were already waiting for us. At one point the guy next to me noticed the police mini buses and yelled at me to get out of there. Before I knew it, they'd already taken him away. I rode in the opposite direction, but even there the bicycle rally participants had already been detained. Then I looked around and decided that I was alone in this trap. Suddenly someone called me - a guy and a girl were hiding under the benches with their bikes, and they offered to hide next to them. It was a miracle I managed to get home that day. 

Euroradio: How did you react to what was happening after the election?

Hanna Mikhailava: Until the last moment I mistakenly believed that the security forces would not carry out criminal orders. When I heard the news about the beatings and torture, I realized that many of us were just lucky not to be in their place, and thought that if they had suffered for us, now it was our time to stand up for them, so I decided to go to the rallies despite fear and apprehension. 

Euroradio: Do you believe that peaceful protests will change the situation in Belarus? 

Hanna Mikhailava: Peaceful protests have already changed the Belarusians. We have seen how many of us are supporters of change. We have seen that we are surrounded by many caring, not indifferent, brave and truly incredible people.  

Hanna Mikhailava: "I think that first of all we are united because we are all one big family."

I think that peaceful protest is our way to build the democracy that we are fighting for. I assume that change is inevitable in the long run, but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon.

Euroradio: There are people who say they are afraid to go out to protest or don't see the point in it anymore...

Hanna Mikhailava: My main motivation at the moment is the Belarusians in jail. We are their only hope and we have no right to let them down.

 

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