“I am grateful to the university for the way they handled the situation”

How students were detained on 1 September

2 September 2020, 20:13 | Elena Melnikova, TUT.BY
The photo is for illustrative purposes only.
Source: Vadim Zamirovsky, TUT.BY

On 1 September, students went to protests and solidarity actions. As the Ministry of Internal Affairs would later report, for violation of the law on mass public events in Minsk, charges for administrative offences have been drawn up against more than 30 students. TUT.BY spoke with three of them: on the Day of Knowledge, they ended up in the Leninsky District Department of Internal Affairs.

“Those who managed to hide behind the girls’ backs were not touched”

Danila Dorofeev, 19, is a 2nd-year student at the Belarusian State University (BSU). He says that he did not plan to participate in the action on 1 September in advance, but decided to join only after learning about the detentions of students in the morning; he wanted to express solidarity. He joined the group of protesters at about 2 pm.

“We walked, new people joined along the way, and we were also pursued by ‘minibuses’ without number plates,” he describes and recalls the route: Nemiga, Gorodskoy Val, Independence Avenue. “I don’t know if anyone was leading us or if there was any organisation; we were just walking around the city.”

Law enforcers and police officers periodically appeared in the way of students. There were also detentions. For Danila, the rally ended near Dynamo Stadium.

We went about halfway past the fence when several minibuses stopped abruptly nearby. The riot police ran out and began to seize those who were closer to the street. Some managed to hide behind the girls’ backs and they were not touched.

Danila was among those who were put on the “bus”. The time was half past five.

The photo is for illustrative purposes only.
Source: Vadim Zamirovsky, TUT.BY

“I study on a paid basis, and on the way to the rally I thought about the fact that students could be expelled from the university – but even then, in the spirit of ‘why worry, you still can’t do anything,’ I just dropped that thought.”

The detainees were taken to the Leninsky district police department.

They unloaded everyone, put us in a line against the wall. They took our belongings from our pockets: phones, keys. One at a time, they called for each to take his belongings in a bag. On camera, we voiced out personal data: name, surname, place of residence. Then, the protocols were drawn up. There were two for me: for participating in a meeting and disobedience during detention. They said, “Sign, or else you will spend the night at the Offender Detention Centre,” and I agreed to both protocols. But in the end, I regretted it. There is a video where you can see that I am not resisting – my hands were twisted.

There was a white-red-white flag in the student’s backpack; it was taken away. The contents on his phone were not examined, but he was forbidden from shooting any footage and was told to turn it off. Danila and several other detainees from BSU had to wait for the dean.

I spent about five hours in the police department, two of them out in the open – in the cold, in a T-shirt. At about ten in the evening, the dean of one of the faculties – not mine – arrived and vouched for our release. He was very calm. We were immediately told that they would not expel us. I am very grateful to the university for the way they handled the situation.

The photo is for illustrative purposes only.
Source: Vadim Zamirovsky, TUT.BY

Danila was released, but a copy of the protocol was never given. Today, he managed to go to the police department and ask for documents in order to familiarise the lawyer [with his case] – he was told to leave an application, which would be answered within 10 days.

“But the trial can take place earlier,” emphasises Danila. “At the same time, I did not sign any papers about the time at which I undertake to appear there: I don’t even know what this may mean.”

One thing is clear for sure – there is no conflict with his parents:

I initially presented them with the fact that I went to the march. They supported me. So no questions or problems arose later. As for the protocols, I hope I will be able to challenge the one about resistance during detention. Before that, I’ve had no administrative offences: none, not even for taking public transport without paying.

“In Akrescina Detention Centre, they jokingly called us bandits”

19-year-old Vera (who asks not to disclose her last name – TUT.BY) is a third-year student of the philological faculty of the BSU. On 1 September, together with other students, she decided to greet the freshmen with an action: to write quotes from Belarusian classics with chalk in the university courtyard. Then, the plans were to collect signatures for the student petition and join the march – but that did not happen.

The dean and the deputy dean came up and asked what we were doing. It was difficult to hold a balanced dialogue in the courtyard, and at the dean’s request, we went to his office. I began to explain our plans, but then the dean got a call. He was very worried. We went into the courtyard again. There was a man in a light-coloured suit there already; the girls began to have a heated argument with him.

Quotes that the students managed to write.
Source: Facebook.com/prajdzisvet

This story ended with two men in civilian clothes telling Vera and another student, Angelina, that they would have to go with them. Already in the car, the girls learned that they were being taken to the Leninsky District Department of Internal Affairs. In a few hours, their personal belongings were examined and protocols were drawn up:

“Article 23.34, part 1, which everyone is charged with,” the girl clarifies. “We hoped that they would let me go, but instead we heard: get your laces out, they will take you to the Offender Detention Centre. We asked why, but no one answered. On the way out, they frightened me with expulsion and the fact that my parents would lose their jobs.”

So, the girls were taken to Akrescina Detention Centre – as it turned out, until morning. Angelina cried at first, but then she felt better. She says they have changed several cells. The last one was a five-seater: it was empty at first, but it was gradually filled with detainees from different parts of the city. Vera notes that from that moment on, they were treated very politely: they were given fresh linen and sanitary bags.

They allowed us to eat, although dinner time had already passed. There was drinking water. People around jokingly called us “bandits”.

The next day, after breakfast, the girls were taken to court. Vera was fined 25 basic units, which is 675 Belarusian rubles [254.70 USD – Translator’s note].

Quotes that the students managed to write.
Source: Facebook.com/prajdzisvet

I was very much supported by representatives of the administration and representatives of the dean’s office. Both the dean and the deputy dean are here now, they didn’t hesitate to vouch for us and they worried about us. Huge thanks to them! We are waiting for a decision on Angelina’s case: I hope she will be lucky and also be fined, not detained. At the faculty, there is no question of expulsion. They told us, “Recover your health and we will see you in classes.”

What Vera is worried about is that her parents had to go through a lot of stress.

After all, I have always been an exemplary child: an Olympiad participant, I study on the state scholarship, my GPA during my studies is above nine. I told my mother that I would pay the fine myself and pay her back for the services of a lawyer, because I’m already a big girl.

“I’m not the kind of person who would say that he was just walking by. No, really, I consciously participated”

21-year-old Yevgeniy Cherepovich studies at the history department of the BSU, on a paid basis. He honestly describes himself as “a student disillusioned with the Belarusian education system”.

On 1 September, at 11 o’clock, he was near his faculty with a white-red-white flag. Then, a history faculty teacher, associate professor Vadim Belevts, was detained. The protesters fled, met other students at the Faculty of Law and marched out with them.

Like Danila, Yevgeniy was detained near the Dynamo stadium:

In the bus, I sat down on a seat, but the riot policeman knocked me down onto the floor; I hit my head and the flag was torn from my hands. On the way there, we were told we would be sent out to the countryside to do heavy manual labour or be conscripted into the army. When one of our phones rang, they commented, “Mom asks how much is the fine?”

The photo is for illustrative purposes only.
Source: Vadim Zamirovsky, TUT.BY

In the Leninsky District Department of Internal Affairs, Yevgeniy felt unwell with nausea and dizziness. Other detainees also complained about their health, so they called an ambulance.

Before that, we carried out the usual procedure: I answered questions on video. I signed the protocol that I took part in an unauthorised action – I am not the person who would say that I was just walking by. No, really, I consciously participated.

The student was taken to Municipal Hospital No. 5, where he was examined and told that he was fine. From there, he returned to the hostel. It was already late evening. He did not receive a copy of the protocol and does not know when the trial will take place.

Yevgeniy clarifies: he took part in protest actions before, both in his native Vileika and in Minsk. But there were no arrests. Today, his grandmother was shown some kind of videotape in which someone resembling her grandson was taken away – so, perhaps, the moment of his arrest is on the video.

“But I myself did not look… I don’t want to worry again. It was my first experience after all,” he smiles.