Story of the person jailed for anti-war protest

Anti-war rally in Warsaw / Euroradio

According to the refugees from Ukraine, it was stuffy and packed inside overcrowded trains where 300 people had squeezed into a carriage with 50 seats.

Stuffy and packed space: this is what the participants of anti-war rallies in Belarus tell us. Aleks (name changed) was locked in a six-person cell with about 40 people "at the peak" just for his intention to participate in such a rally. He says he was "forcibly immersed in a kind of squid game".

If you escape from the war, if you go out against the war, if you don't want war -- you end up in a stuffy and packed space.

Anti-war picket in Warsaw / Euroradio

"The fastest protest"

On the morning of February 24, Aleks began receiving calls from friends and relatives in Russia. They knew that Aleks had been detained in August 2020, they knew that he had cracks in his ribs after that detention. And they knew what he would do on the day Russia attacked Ukraine.

They were not wrong. Back on February 24, Aleks drew an anti-war poster. But on that day he did not go out on the street with it: his friends convinced him that his picket would not last more than a minute. And on February 27, the day of the referendum, Aleks went to the anti-war protest.

When he drove up to the place, the cab driver said: I will not go further, the roads are blocked. Aleks got out of the car. Within minutes, he was detained. He would spend the next 15 days in a cell.

He told his story to Euroradio anonymously.

"They roughed me up for smiling"

"I thought it was going to be tougher. I thought it would be like in August. Then, my ribs hurt for six months. This time they only hit me on the head. There was no physical pain as severe as in 2020. What made it worse was that it lasted a very long time. In August, it was three days, now it's 15 days.

How did it all happen? I was on my way to an anti-war rally. I got out of the cab. A few minutes later, I was transferred to another "cab". It was pretty unexpected. And fast. When they were pushing me into the car, they didn't beat me up much. It was rough, with foul language, but without rage.

Anti-war picket in Warsaw / Euroradio

They took me to the police department. The policeman, who was taking me in, had a colleague come to him. They didn't like my smile. I received several blows to the head. I was already signing the protocol without my glasses, just like in August 2020. My glasses were on the floor somewhere.

Even at the police department, I asked to call my mother, but they refused. My relatives heard my voice only on the day of the trial.

They took me from the police department to a Minsk jail. In August, when they took us to Zhodzina, it was unbearably hot. This time, four of us were crammed into a "compartment" and brought fairly quickly to the place. This way I knew we were in the center of the city. Not far from where I lived as a kid. 

We were kept in the detention center for three days. There were a lot of people in the cells. We were moved from one cell to another. The neighbors were constantly changing. It happened unexpectedly. We called it Tetris. Before we were sent to the TDF, for a few hours there were a little over eighty of us in the eight-bed buffer cell.  

Then we were transferred to the TDF. When we were facing the wall, the staff was talking quite loudly to each other. They were talking about how "a bunch of men in the cell had converted the toilet into a shower cabin".

I also heard that they were watching not only the men but also the girls. And vividly recounted to each other what it was like.

"By day five, we outnumbered the cockroaches"

"It was a cell for six. On the first day in the TDF, there were about 20 people. Then the number doubled. At the end of my stay, there were about 40 of us. 

When we were transferred to the TDF, for two days our cell looked like a hammam. There was water streaming down the walls. We had cockroaches in the cell. We had bedbugs, which were the most disgusting thing ever. You kill a bedbug, someone's blood comes out of it. It's disgusting. It was the first time I ever saw a bedbug. I think they put us in the worst cell on purpose.

Akrestsina jail / Euroradio

Our menu was another story. The best day was Thursday. Then we were given borscht and mashed potatoes with a cutlet. It was the most delicious day.

Twice a week we were given a soup that looked like slop. Imagine boiling buckwheat in a pot and then somebody decided to wash that pot and pour water on it. They stirred up the leftovers and called it soup.

On Fridays, there were some tasteless fish cutlets "with eyes". They served passable mackerel, though many said it was smelly. They gave us a lot of bread. We didn't always take all of it, and sometimes even got rid of it, so as not to breed cockroaches. We exterminated the cockroaches after four days. On the fifth day, we finally outnumbered them in the cell. 

I'm still a little dumb. And I wasn't the only one like that in the cell. It felt like they fed us some kind of "dumb food". I'm still bouncing from topic to topic.

"After two days without air, they opened the window"

The TDF staff? One stood out because he didn't use foul language when addressing us.

They tried to scare us all the time. They woke us up twice during the night: at 2 a.m. and at 4 a.m. We slept wherever we could. On the floor, under the bunks, under the table. We were not given mattresses. It was, to put it mildly, uncomfortable to sleep on a bunk bed in the TDF. There were metal beds there, and without a mattress, you slept like on a grill. The beds in the TDF were made of wood and were much more comfortable. Nothing was pressing into the body. 

We used to put the "newcomers" on these beds. Some had already slept by then and given up their place. We took turns sleeping during the day and at night. We did the best we could.

During the first two days in the TDF, we had nothing to breathe. Because even after numerous requests they would not let us open the so-called "feeder" - the window in the door where they put the food in.

At one point, they gave us wrenches to unscrew the grate and open the vent. After two days without air, we were able to get a sip of oxygen. But then everyone began to freeze because the window did not close properly. A lot of people caught a cold.

You know, when you're short of air for a long time - but I guess you don't know - well, when you're short of air for a long time, you can't get enough of it afterward. We kept that vent open for a long time, and the guys who were sleeping on the floor started coughing and getting a fever. Many of them asked for some kind of medication to help with their coughs. I got off pretty easy. Except for one night with a scratchy throat, but then the symptoms went away.

"I didn't like how the homeless were treated"

I had no contact with loved ones the whole time. It was my mother's birthday. I asked my cellmates, who had been out earlier, to call her to congratulate her.

After a week in the cell, we got new detainees and current news. Most of my cellmates had higher education. One had as much as three.

Every day we tried to distract ourselves. We had classes in different disciplines. English, finance, sociology, law. We spent fifteen days discussing travel, telling each other who had been to which country. We also played charades and made checkers of breadcrumbs.  

And then they moved me to a cell with a homeless person in it. Then they put there one more to "diversify" the team. They lived a little apart from the "political" ones. I didn't like the attitude of my neighbors towards them. These people were treated differently. It was unexpected. Once I made a remark to a neighbor about it. 

There were no doors in the toilet of the cell where I had been held lately. There were about 40 people in the cell, and people just pretended nothing was going on.

Dad said Mom got more wrinkles

I remember it was great when a crowd of people greeted me and the other released people in August. It was so touching.

Relatives of detainees near the Akretstsina jail in 2020 / Euroradio

People offered to take me to Minsk, offered food and drink. Tears came to my eyes. This time, several of my family members were waiting for me outside. They told me that I had even gained a little weight.  

When I got out, the thing I wanted to do most of all was to call my mom. My dad told me that she had gotten more wrinkles on her face in the last 15 days.

My child also missed me. They told him, just like in August 2020, that Daddy was on a business trip.

Unlike August, nothing hurt. My head was already fine. Only the dullness remained.

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