“We don’t need such a future”

Belarusian students and teachers about youth protests, persecution and migration

21 November 2020, 00:01 | Aleksandr Nepogodin, Lenta.ru
Source: Sergei Bobylev, TASS via Lenta.ru

For four months, Belarusians who disagree with Lukashenko’s victory in the presidential election have been taking to the streets and demanding changes. A new surge in protest activity happened after the death of 31-year-old Raman Bandarenka, who was beaten up by unknown persons in Minsk. To commemorate his death, thousands of Belarusians came out, among whom were students and professors who remain one of the driving forces of protests. In response, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko promised to deal with protesting teachers and students “like a man”: he ordered to expel them from universities and to send them to the army. Russian news agency Lenta.ru – with the help of the BYSOL Solidarity Foundation, which supports Belarusian victims of persecution – contacted participants of university protests. They talked about brutal arrests, pressure from the university administration, and forced emigration.

About detentions and arrests

Hanna Pashkevich. A third-year student of the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts (BSUCA) who repeatedly participated in student protests. She spent ten days in custody and endured humiliation.

OMON riot police officers arrested me literally 10 minutes after the beginning of the march. Everything happened on a crowded avenue; there was nowhere to run. An officer roughly grabbed me by the arm and shouted that I should not try to break free. But there is even a video which clearly shows that I was walking to the bus myself. Inside, guys were beaten with batons; they were walked on – on their heads and backs. Girls were only intimidated – they said that if we didn’t answer questions, no one would care that we were “maidens”. They also threatened us with expulsion, saying: “Happy? Your last day at university has passed, now nobody needs you. You’ll be jailed for 15 days and taught a lesson.” There was a lot of cursing and shouting.

My friend and I were holding hands in the bus because we were scared. A riot police officer noticed this and yelled: “Maybe it’d be better to fasten your bond even tighter?” He drew out a belt and began to throw it in our faces. Then it was calmer – in the prisoner transport vehicle (PTV) on the way to the Pershamaiski District Department of Internal Affairs, the officers were more appropriate. At the police station, reports were drawn up on everyone under the articles of the Code of Administrative Offences “beloved” by Belarusians – 23.34 (“participation in an unauthorised event”) and 23.4 (“disobedience to a police officer”). We waited for the trial for 2 days in custody in Akrestsina. We were brought there in the evening, and we stood on the street with our faces to the wall for a long time; it was really freezing.

The shift supervisor and some other security officer were talking to each other loudly, saying: “Shall we let the girls in, they are our future after all?” The second one replied: “They are not our future, look at them, we don’t need such a future.”

There was an employee in the detention centre who would constantly nag at us: “What is it that you don’t like in our country? What do you want? You are sponging on your parents, you are all studying for free. You are still wet behind the ears.” Suddenly, he asked me to sing “Peremen” (“Changes”), but I replied that I didn’t know the lyrics. Then he asked, “So what, long live Belarus?” To that I replied: “Obviously.” Then he began to ask what it actually means. I answered that Yanka Kupala’s poem written in 1907 ends with those words. He probably expected to see “thugs”, alcoholics and drug addicts, so he was deeply surprised that we were “so smart and sensible”.

Source: Yevgeniy Odinokov, RIA Novosti via Lenta.ru

Even when we were at the police station, we were assured that everything was alright and that it was almost certain we would just be fined, so we were in a calm mood. But in the end, all girls were given 10 days of detention, which was shocking. As for me, I was acquitted of disobedience, but that made no difference. It does not matter whether you are acquitted or not if the judges have received instructions from above.

Sofia (name changed at her request). A former third-year student of the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU), expelled for participating in a march in support of striking workers.

The biggest protest of BNTU students took place on 26 October – a strike march, where I was almost arrested. I was at the end of the column and at some point in the crowd, I almost bumped into a riot police officer and fell down. A passing girl helped me to get up. I ran a few more metres, then fell again, and eventually I was arrested. The officer said I had to follow him, but I refused, put my arm around a bench and loudly answered that I was not going anywhere with him. I tried to break away, rolling on the ground, but two officers escorted me to the police van.

They staged a real raid on us – 8 vans drove up to Nezalezhnastsi Avenue for students; guys in black with wild eyes ran out of them, and so we dashed in different directions.

While they were catching other guys, I managed to delete Telegram and switched off my phone, just in case. But the riot police officer demanded I enter the password. After my three refusals, he gave the phone back to me. When the van was full, we drove for some metres, and we were harshly transferred to a PTV. There were around 50 people there. The girls were placed on the benches, and the guys were commanded to stand in the centre with hands behind their heads. The security forces gloated that we would be expelled; apparently, they thought we appreciated studying in universities where the administration can only threaten to call the riot police if we express any protest.

The scene in the police station shocked me – there were a lot of guys. Two of them were marked with red crosses on their forehead – this means that the person resisted arrest and can be beaten. In the police station, nobody touched us or put us against the wall, but nobody gave us food either. We just sat for 6 hours while reports were drawn up. Our parents were told that we were alright, but they didn’t receive lists of the detained. They were told we had been taken away [to another place] long ago and nobody knew where exactly.

There was a guy who had his head beaten against a seat in the PTV. He turned out to have asthma, and an attack happened in the police station. They called an ambulance, doctors provided help and they took him with them. He was lucky. I was testifying for the report and threatened into showing photos and messages. They treated me like they were allowed to do everything; they literally revel in their power and impunity. There was one employee who proudly switched on the song “Sanya ostanietsia z nami” [“Sanya will stay with us”, “Sanya” being a nickname for Lukashenko – Proofreader’s note]; that was just absurd. During the examination, my bra was confiscated even though it is allowed, and they also pulled out the elastic band in my jacket even though it was sewn in. There was a girl with a nose ring and she couldn’t take it off. So she was offered to have it torn out, otherwise “she would look like a pig”.

At night, a PTV with a small compartment came for us – it’s called a “tall box” in everyday language. A riot police officer led people away two at a time. It all resembled the beginning of the process for slaughtering cattle; I felt uneasy. As they explained it to us, we were being taken to the detention centre in Zhodzina for an overnight stay before the trial, so that we wouldn’t go protesting again.

Students at a meeting on the protests at the Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU).
Source: Aleksey Mayshev, RIA Novosti via Lenta.ru

I was conscious, but it felt so cool to lie on that floor – I finally lay down with my eyes closed. The riot police officers called the doctors, one of the officers poured water on my face so hard that my ear was blocked, and then he lifted me up. He said that I shouldn’t go to protests. Guys also fainted. At the same time, I complained that I had a severe sprain in my arm, bruises on my knees, a scratch on my palm and hadn’t had food for the last 15 hours. In response, they smiled at me and said that starvation was good for health.

We didn’t eat or drink for the whole day; it was hard to stand against the wall with hands behind our backs. I heard guys being beaten with their heads against the wall. At some point, I felt like fainting and just let myself fall to the floor.

After that, female officers conducted a naked search of the girls, made us do squats, then dressed us, put us against the wall and led us to a cell. For 4 sleeping places, there were 12 of us. In the cell there were metal bunks and a shelf with stale loaves of bread. Basically, we chewed the soft part of that bread and drank water from the tap, slept in pairs on our sides, on jackets, and often woke up because it was very noisy – riot police officers would break into the guys’ cells and scare them.

The trial was held at about 2 pm the day after the protest. It took around three minutes. I asked to receive a fine, accepting all charges of active participation in an unauthorised rally – I just did not want to return to the detention centre. The release also took a long time. We spent two more hours in the cell, then we were led through endless basements, checkpoints; we stood in a line on the street. There, I met an acquaintance of mine who told me that they had been beaten everywhere except the detention centre, and there had been 20 people in his cell with no bread given.

About the expulsion of students

Alena Zhyvahlod. A co-founder of “Chesny Universitet” (“Honest University”), a project aimed at helping Belarusian students and teachers.

Since September, protests at universities have intensified. Students would unite with teachers and go on protests together. They gathered up to 300 participants at every university. In Minsk alone, there have been more than 15 protesting universities. In some of them, Lukashenko changed the rectors, and a new position of vice-rector for security was established – in the majority of cases, former security forces officers were appointed to it. At universities, riot police kept watch. Any initiative, even simply singing during break time, was regarded as a disruption of the education process with all the consequences that followed.

The peak of activity came during the week after Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s announcement of the People’s Ultimatum. Students and professors openly went on strike. The reaction of the administration in most cases was immediate: people were detained for participation in protests, and right after they were released from detention centres, they were expelled or dismissed. Male students were given summons to the military together with expulsion orders, while activists’ houses were ransacked by the KGB.

Students of the Belarusian State Medical University (BSMU) at a protest in Minsk.
Source: Yevgeniy Odinokov, RIA Novosti via Lenta.ru

Anton (name changed at his request). A former Belarusian State Medical University (BSMU) teacher who resigned due to pressure after openly expressing his civic stance.

Our president recently said that all protesting students must be expelled. It’s no surprise that the rectors appointed by him began to do that the following day. An interesting situation arose. I know that 21 students were expelled from BSMU, but there were no expulsion orders – that is, the university administration reported to the authorities that Lukashenko’s order to expel students had been acted upon. That gained media attention, but students are not allowed to take their documents. I don’t understand what they are counting on and what is happening.

All teachers keep silent; they are afraid to support students because even a signature on an open letter is followed by getting branded as an “unreliable employee”. The administration collects lists of such employees and then gives them disciplinary talks, promising not to renew contracts. This is full-fledged persecution.

They promise to reinstate those who will repent. The question is, [repent] for what? For the open expression of their stance? It’s clear that all teachers are against that. The best students are being expelled – those with a good education, those who are not afraid to express their position, who are ready for the consequences. Many of them were involved in scientific research, had excellent marks. Even senior students are among the expelled. Back in the day, students were only expelled from BSMU in rare cases; it was really hard [to get expelled]. But now, almost every second student has received a reprimand for skipping classes. The administration often fakes the absence of a student… How can it be that a student is attributed a non-attendance and receives a reprimand without an opportunity to explain themselves? They might have been sick. The pressure is tremendous; everybody is afraid.

Sofia (name changed at her request). A former third-year BNTU student, expelled for participating in a march in support of striking workers.

Hardly had I left the detention centre in Zhodzina when an expulsion order with my name was issued. Everybody who was detained on 26 October was kicked out – and that means 52 students. The order said it was “for consistent failure to fulfill the responsibilities of a student”. It is important to note that even the deans didn’t know about the expulsions. The deputy rector told us that an order had come from above to expel the most active students, and that he is in charge of students’ safety, and that “there will be no politics on the university campus”. It happened right after Lukashenko made his well-known statements.

Expelled students can be reinstated by a court decision but they are hardly eager to go back to the university. Over the last two months, everyone has had their share of humiliation: from security guards to some of the professors and administrators.

BNTU in general was one of the least active in terms of mass protests despite the fact that around 13,000 students study there. However, the reaction of the administration is one of the most brutal ones. After the “cleansing operation” on 27 October, protest activity has dropped noticeably. Everyone is scared, and moreover, distance learning has been introduced. Nevertheless, the “guerilla movement” has always been popular at my university – leaving around leaflets with rhetorical questions addressing the administration, putting up stickers with writers’ quotes which should appeal to the conscience, spreading posters supporting plant workers, and attempting to establish dialogue with the administration.

Students who were previously detained for participating in protests sitting in the MSLU rector’s reception area.
Source: Sergey Bobylev, TASS via Lenta.ru

Tsikhan Karoukin. A former third-year student of the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts (BSUCA), expelled for participating in protests. Currently, he has to stay in Ukraine.

At the end of August, before the start of the academic year, our rector was fired. She was favourably disposed towards all the protesting students. This aroused a wave of protests at the university – we used to go out particularly to support her. First, we used to gather in the university lobby, but the security guards would drive us out to the entrance and the police from the Frunzenskiy district police station would disperse us. The biggest protest took place on 1 September; around 100 people gathered. Some unidentified people in masks arrived, filmed us, and then the police set up surveillance.

The atmosphere in our university used to be quite calm as there are really few of those who are ready to openly express their position. However, despite this, students started getting expelled in October. This was preceded by the appointment of a new rector – Natalia Karchevskaya. On 26 October, we held a sit-in protest in the main building hall. Right after that, the administration members approached us and we had a heated conversation. Karchevskaya claimed that she would not engage in a dialogue with the crowd. Eventually, we agreed to create a council for negotiations which would include one student representative from every faculty.

The following day, I was summoned to the dean and forced to write an explanation letter concerning where I was on 26 October at 10 am. I was reprimanded for missing one academic hour. The next morning, I woke up to notifications in our Telegram chat group. Students were saying that those who had written explanation letters had had their pass cards deactivated. They went to the dean’s office to find out what was the matter.

They were presented with a list of names of 18 students expelled for gross violation of the university charter. It was forbidden to take a photo of it. An hour later, the dean called me to say: “Congratulations, you have been expelled, you may not come to school tomorrow.”

The documents in the dean’s office were given together with a military draft notice. If I had taken them in person and then failed to show up at the military enlistment office, I would have faced first an administrative liability and then a criminal one. A friend of mine took the papers, pretending to be me. They didn’t care in the dean’s office. He allegedly received a military draft notice, but that doesn’t matter. I had been steeling myself to be expelled or detained for 15 days, but that didn’t scare me. Staying in Minsk would be the most dangerous thing as I have taken part in almost all the protest events, and the security forces recorded it. So, I bought tickets and went to Kyiv.

Ivan Turchanka. A former fourth-year student of the Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU). Having been expelled, he left the country for fear of persecution.

I started taking part in protests right after the 9 August election, first in Homel, and then in Minsk. I took part in all student protest events. Things used to be fine – I didn’t receive a single reprimand at university, I didn’t write any explanation letters. But right after Lukashenko called for the expulsion of protesting students, I immediately realised that I was going to be in trouble as I had been spotted at all major events.

When Tsikhanouskaya announced the strike, we decided to go on a march through the university with a big banner. Students were invited, though the building was half empty and many people didn’t come as the strike was going on. Anyway, some people came up and joined us, and eventually, there was quite a big crowd. Together, in a column, we went to Nezalezhnastsi Avenue and visited other Minsk universities.

A couple of days later, a screenshot with an expulsion list appeared on Telegram, and then an order with 15 students’ names, including mine. However, no one from the dean’s office called. We were simply presented the fact without any explanation given. However, a girl from the administration called and told me that she had been persistently asked to bring me to the dean’s office. And then she unexpectedly added: “That’s why I hope that soon, you will not be in the country.” (Laughs). I don’t think they were going to give me a military draft notice. There are some expelled guys in Minsk who still haven’t been drafted.

I did not want to take risks and left for Kyiv. I have heard about cases in which expelled students were handed draft notices right while they were at the dean’s office. And serving in Lukashenko’s army is like a death sentence.

Marharyta Shysha. A former fourth-year student of the Yanka Kupala State University of Hrodna, expelled after participating in the national strike.

We started protesting back in mid-August. Students lined up in solidarity chains and held photos of protest participants. They took photos with the posters saying “everything is forbidden”, handed out leaflets and applications for leaving the students’ [trade] union and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU), and sang “Kupalinka”, “Voiny Sveta” (“Warriors of the Light”), “Try Charapakhi” (“Three Turtles”) and other songs associated with protest.

At meetings with students, the rector repeatedly promised that no one would be expelled or fired for political reasons, but it seems that he has forgotten about what he said.

On the day of the national strike, 26 October, students tried to organise a mass protest, but they only managed to go though the main building holding a white-red-white flag. Then OMON riot police and the military arrived – there was a protest taking place in the park opposite us at the same time. Now, there are police on duty almost every day in all the buildings on campus. All this time we have been summoned for disciplinary talks. We were told that we were violating the law and the university charter, and that many people were reprimanded and threatened by law enforcement authorities. I know 5 people from the university who were expelled for their political position, just like me. At least 20 more students were arrested or severely reprimanded.

Source: BelaPAN/Reuters via Lenta.ru

About pressure and dismissals

Anton (name changed at his request). A former BSMU instructor who resigned due to pressure after openly expressing his civic stance.

University staff are under a lot of pressure. The administration is selected by the president, and only he knows for what merits. When the post-election protests started, a new rector was appointed. I don’t know whether the previous one had resigned or had been forced to do so. But the new administration was faced with the task of repressing the protest. BSMU is one the most active universities in terms of participation in protests.

The story of my resignation started with the release of the teachers’ video address. We didn’t call for anything. We just presented our position that any person, according to the Constitution, has the right to express his or her point of view; and that what is happening in the country is abnormal. It is sheer tyranny.

Unidentified people can grab you without even introducing themselves and pull you into a car. And you don’t know whether you should fight back because they’re bandits or whether you shouldn’t because they’re police. We have really brutal punishments. There is probably no other country in the world where there is such serious criminal prosecution for resisting police officers. Imagine: you are walking down the street, a car stops, and two unidentified men run out of it and round you up in broad daylight. And if you happen to touch one of them and it turns out that they’re a law enforcement officer – you will be given a sentence.

After the video was published, of course, we had a talk about the inadmissibility of such behaviour. But a question immediately arises: why is speaking out against violence equivalent to opposing the government? Then, protests and sit-ins began at the university. I supported one of them. A girl, one of the students, was sitting near the rector’s office. She was summoned to talk about expulsion. After that, they pressured me a lot and threatened to start checking my department colleagues, with whom I have a good relationship.

I mean, I was ready to be fired. But I couldn’t just stand by and watch everything that was going on. And they started threatening me that if I resigned according to the Labour Code article, they would check the attendance of the entire department – every single person. Considering that our system is far from ideal as well as the current pandemic (people try to spend as little time at the university as they can) and really low salaries, it is always possible to find something to complain about. So, I decided to resign of my own accord so that my colleagues would be left alone.

Yulia Safronava. An instructor at MSLU on the verge of being fired.

I have an unusual situation. The fact is that I studied at MSLU for 6 years free of charge, subsidised by the state budget, and now I have to work for 2 years in a state or private institution. During this period of time, a percentage of my salary will be withheld and go to the treasury – thus will l compensate for the costs of my education.

Detention of participants of a protest in support of teachers near the MSLU building. Posters: “Be like Nina [Bahinskaya]”, “Alumni thank students for their courage. We are with you!”
Source: Aleksey Mayshev, RIA Novosti via Lenta.ru

So, at some point I found out that I was going to be fired for taking part in protests. But I fall into the category of young specialists, and it is not easy to fire me because under the existing graduate placement system, I was assigned to work at the university in order to compensate for my state-subsidised education, and the university – as my employer – is responsible for me. The university has to either find me a new job or fire me according to the Labour Code article for not fulfilling my responsibilities. So far, this cannot be done – I received only one reprimand for taking part in the strike. If I am fired according to the article, I will have to pay the state quite a big sum of money.

I have made a decision not to sponsor the police state. I am quite aware of where this money will go.

That’s why I will go to classes and later, I will get reassigned to another place where I will work for 2 years. Yes, some percentage of my salary will still go to the state, but not as much as it could be. Plus, the money will be withdrawn monthly – if I immediately give them $10,000 USD (and they won’t let me leave Belarus otherwise), this money will go where the authorities want it. That’s why I remain at MSLU, though it is very difficult to work. Many people went into online studies or simply left. We are constantly filmed by the police officers. When the teachers take part in protest events, we are always “punished” and called in to the rector office for fake dialogues.

About forced emigration

Illia Shalmanau. A fourth-year student who was expelled from MITSO International University after participating in protests.

I was detained on 26 October at a protest held near the Red Cathedral on Nezalezhnastsi Square. I was just taking photos of the event, and riot police officers came up to me, took me by the jacket and led me to a bus. They didn’t stand on ceremony. They said that they had seen me at a similar event on the same day, and that it would be better for me not to go wandering around…

After leaving the detention centre, there was a serious threat of criminal proceedings. The fact is that I was the administrator of one of the courtyard chat groups on Telegram, and at that moment such people began to be searched by the State Control Committee (SCC), so I packed up my things and flew to Kyiv in a day. Then, I found out that even before the trial, the university had received a letter from the Ministry of Education informing the university administration about my stay in the Zhodzina detention centre. The rector’s office gathered a commission and decided to expel me – I learned about this not from the dean’s office, but in the Telegram chat where the order was posted.

Source: Yevgeniy Odinokov, RIA News via Lenta.ru

Tsikhan Karoukin. A third-year student expelled from BSUCA after participating in protests, he is forced to stay in Ukraine.

Now, I’m collecting documents and translating them into Polish – I’m going to apply for the Kalinouski scholarship programme. Poland helps all repressed students from Belarus continue their studies. If you don’t know Polish, you are sent first to a one-year special course, and then assigned to a university. During the course of study, Poland pays a good scholarship – about 300 euros per month.

There is also the European Humanities University (EHU), which was moved from Belarus. It accepts students mainly for studies in the Humanities. I know that repressed Belarusian students are invited to study in Germany, Latvia, and the Czech Republic. In Russia, Dmitry Mazepin, the co-owner of URALCHEM, offered to pay for Belarusians’ studies. But it is quite dangerous for conscripts to go because we have the same search database within the Union State with Russia, and there is a threat that they will be deported to Belarus. Although I have friends and relatives in Moscow and St. Petersburg, being in Russia scares me.

Marharyta Shysha. A fourth-year student expelled from the Yanka Kupala State University of Hrodna after participating in the national strike.

I’m afraid of persecution, so the only remaining option for me is getting a foreign education. Now, I am waiting for responses from foreign universities to which I have sent applications. I am considering the option of entering the European Humanities University in Vilnius, which is aimed at students from Belarus, and the Kalinouski scholarship programme, since I know Polish relatively well. You can study at the European Humanities University in Russian. I haven’t considered Russia as an option yet, and I don’t know anything about Russian study programmes. I used to want to study in St. Petersburg, but I didn’t dare to.

About the support of colleagues and relatives

Tsikhan Karoukin. A third-year student expelled from BSUCA after participating in protests, he is forced to stay in Ukraine.

When it all started, my mother was very afraid for me. I completely understand her – I am the only son in the family. She didn’t allow me to go to the protests, so I had to miss some of the rallies in August – my mother forced me to leave for a village in the Homel region, but I went there for five days only and returned to Minsk anyway. I’ve been preparing backup plans for the future since September, warning my mother that I might be expelled. When it happened, it was she who started asking me to leave as soon as possible. Now, my mother strongly supports me – which, I must admit, I didn’t expect – even in the matter of leaving the country, although she is well aware that I am unlikely to be able to return to Belarus under the current government.

I couldn’t act otherwise and stay on the sidelines, seeing the President’s constant lies (from the coronavirus to the protests) and the violence of security forces against peaceful citizens, especially when my friends were severely beaten on 9-10 August. I have opposed the current government since I became aware of politics because I know history well; I remember the names of the opposition members who disappeared without a trace – Yury Zakharanka, Anatol Krasouski, Viktar Hanchar, and a journalist, Dzmitry Zavadski.

It pains me to think about how Lukashenko has been crushing the bureaucracy for many years, how he dissolved the Parliament in 1996, held referendums to strengthen his personal power and destroyed state symbols.

Anyway, our first national flag should be registered, but it is now being treated like dirt; they are trying to make it a symbol of the enemy – this shows disrespect for our own history. It doesn’t matter how the white-red-white flag was used in the 1940s. Monuments to Lenin still stand in every city.

Ivan Turchanka. A former fourth-year student of MSLU. Having been expelled, he left the country for fear of persecution.

Teachers sympathised with us; many of them took part in protest actions. Among them is the dismissed Natallia Dulina, a former associate professor of the Italian language department, who was sentenced to 14 days for participating in a protest near the building of the Belarusian State University’s law faculty. Of course, most of the teaching staff didn’t go out on the streets, and some even tried to avoid political topics – like, don’t tell me where you’re going, I don’t want to know anything, just study.

There were also such inappropriate characters as associate professor Valery Pishchykau, who brawled in public, pushed, and showed middle fingers to protesting students. But in general, about 140 teachers and almost 2,000 graduates signed an open letter in which they supported the students and demanded an end to the inhumane actions of the security forces.

People’s memorial at the site of Raman Bandarenka’s death.
Source: BelaPAN/Reuters via Lenta.ru

The main demands that we stood for were the following: stop the violence on the streets, hold fair presidential elections, and seek the resignation of Lukashenko.

Personally, I have never been involved in politics – like 97% of Belarusians during all 26 years of independence, I think. It seemed to me that there was nothing to do there anyway since someone else would decide everything for the people. But when the parliamentary elections, which were clearly rigged, were held in November 2019, I realised that this could no longer continue. And then the presidential campaign began, and everyone saw the meanness of the authorities, the forged election results, the wave of violence.

Just recently, a young man, Raman Bandarenka, died in intensive care. He was beaten during his arrest, laid in a coma for a day, and died from his injuries. Almost simultaneously, repressions against students were rolled out. The security forces detained eight activists not even at protests, but at home.

Many students are sitting on pins and needles, preparing to flee Belarus. I think this is completely abnormal. I can’t imagine how you can be silent and pretend that everything is in order in the country and that nothing is happening.

My parents react differently to my activity. My mother was interested in politics even earlier than I was. She sent me interviews with Viktar Babaryka, Valery Tsepkalo, and other opposition figures. My mother is in Belarus and still participates in protest actions, she is very worried. And my father, when we last saw him, he said that he had a lot to worry about, so it wasn’t up to freedom of speech and human rights. And I can understand him, because he is a surgeon, he has been fighting the coronavirus for seven months, and he witnesses people dying every day. It’s very hard.

Alena Zhyvahlod. A co-founder of the “Honest University” project.

In September, right after the beginning of the academic year, we launched the “Honest University” project. Students then united to protest the actions of the authorities for the first time. We decided to support them in their efforts to be heard. We have already had experience in building a dialogue with the authorities. We created e-democracy tools ourselves to build a civil society in Belarus. That’s why we decided to create a platform for uniting students from different universities. We share the experience of effective protest with them, help with the production of posters, the production of videos, and the release of student newspapers.

Together with human rights defenders, solidarity foundations, and Belarusian diasporas abroad, we provide students and teachers with legal assistance in appealing against expulsion or dismissal orders, help them get financial assistance if they lose their scholarships or dormitories, and look for various options to continue their studies at a university abroad. 290 victims have already contacted us.

We are working with foreign governments at the level of diasporas, and we are also assisted by the opposition – Tsikhanouskaya, the Coordination Council and the National Anti-Crisis Management. The greatest support is provided by Poland, where a special scholarship programme has been created for repressed Belarusian students.

– on the EU’s readiness to help repressed students from Belarus

Belarusians living abroad help us a lot. They found positions for more than 200 repressed students in universities in Lithuania, Germany, Italy, the United States and other countries. Foreign universities are sympathetic to the situation in Belarus and are often ready to accept students under a simplified scheme and free of charge – though it is clear that studying abroad is an extreme and necessary measure.

We are very concerned about the brain drain from Belarus. The situation with the coronavirus acts in [students’] favour because studies at European universities are now conducted online. This allows expelled students to study at universities as if they’d left for an exchange semester. We hope that after Lukashenko’s departure, they would be able to re-enroll and the courses taken at foreign universities would be credited.