“A black sack was pulled over my head”

Coordination Council members Rodnenkov and Kravtsov on their deportation along with Kalesnikava from Belarus

8 September 2020 | KYKY
Source: KYKY

On 8 September Maria Kalesnikava as well as Ivan Kravtsov and Anton Rodnenkov were reported missing. As you may already know, Maria tore her passport this was her way of preventing Belarusian “authorities” from deporting her from her own country. In the meantime, the two men reached Kyiv and had a press conference there. KYKY has talked to them about their 48 hour ordeal.

Coordination Council spokesman Anton Rodnenkov: “It all started yesterday. In the morning journalists informed us about Maria’s detention. We couldn’t get a hold of her. We found out that her phone was at home, so we went there. We entered the building, it was quiet inside. When we went outside a minivan approached us, unknown people came out and pushed us into the minivan. That’s how our ordeal began.

We were taken to one of the offices of GUBOPIK (Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption). We spent about 40 minutes there, nobody explained anything to me. Then they put handcuffs on my hands, a hat over my head and took me to another office. There I spent another four hours. Without any explanation.

At about 2 pm they took me to another place again, this time to DFR (Financial Investigations Department). I was surprised I was taken there. But at least they took off the handcuffs and the black sack off my head. Nothing happened till 7 pm.”

Coordination Council Executive Secretary Ivan Kravtsov: “Anton and myself were loaded into a minivan. We were taken to GUBOPIK. And then to another building where I stayed until 2 pm.

They were actively questioning me, I was trying to clarify my status: am I a suspect or a detainee? I spent about two hours in handcuffs. A mask was put over my head, and at about 2 pm I met with a DFR major. From 3:30 pm to 9 pm I was interviewed by 3 men dressed in civilian clothing. It was not possible to identify their rank.

I was shown documents which supposedly proved my ‘unlawful activities’.

And I was told that if I refuse to cooperate, criminal charges would be brought against me. I would face 5 to 12 years in prison. It would be a financial crime.

I had to make a decision fairly quickly. I don’t know whether all those people questioning me were from the Financial Investigations Department. Primarily, they were interested in deporting Maria Kalesnikava from the country.

One of the options was for the three of us to leave the country in my car. We used to talk about this with Maria, and our position had always been not to leave Belarus. This whole interview was really long.

I realized that they were trying to take Maria to the border under pressure. At about 11 pm Anton and I were put into a minivan, we drove towards KGB, picked up Maria Kalesnikava (I have a good reason to believe she had spent the whole day there) and headed to the state border.”

Anton Rodnenkov: “At 9:30 two men came to see me. They said they just wanted to talk, to help me and that I could help Ivan. They told me that criminal charges would be brought against Ivan in the near future. Since I knew him and had worked with him, I would also be the target of the investigation, although they had no evidence against me.

Right away they told me that I could help myself, Ivan and all of us. That they had already come up with a good solution: we would go to the border all together. At first they were talking only about Ivan and myself, and later they added that Maria would also join us. It felt like everything had already been arranged. I agreed, and was taken outside at 10:30 pm.

I was driven by people without identifying insignia. They put a black sack over my head and let me take it off 20 minutes later. There were 5 or 6 cars in the convoy including Ivan’s car. We reached а Belarusian border checkpoint and drove through without stopping. We quickly reached the neutral territory where I was asked to approach Ivan’s car. I did so, Ivan was inside the car, and at that moment Maria appeared.

Maria was evidently under pressure. They forced her into the back of the car and closed the door. She was yelling that she was not going anywhere. As soon as she was in the car and saw her passport she tore it into multiple little pieces. 

While we were driving in the convoy, the interviewers were hinting that Maria was agitated and needed to be calmed down. I was concerned but when I saw her I realized that she was vigorous and full of energy as usual. And that she had no intention to leave Belarus.”

Ivan Kravtsov: “After 12 hours of questioning she looked great. I can only admire her energy. I believe later she was detained at the border since one cannot enter Ukraine without a passport.”

Ivan Kravtsov: “They started luring us back. The DFR people approached us and I saw a minivan heading towards us from the woods. I hit the gas, and driving on the side of the road we safely maneuvered away from the officers who were trying to close in on our car. They started chasing us. At the Ukrainian border, the border patrol personnel was understanding – we are very grateful to them.”

Question: “Where do you think Maria is now?”

Anton Rodnenkov: “My feeling is that she is in the KGB. Such conspiracies can usually be traced to the KGB.”

Question: “What will happen next?”

Ivan Kravtsov: “We are not even halfway there. Current protests will evolve. I wouldn’t assess the situation in the country based on these pursuit stories. What is happening on the streets is much more important.”

Question: “So KGB officers offered you to leave the country in order to reduce tension, and then you gave Maria Kalesnikava a chance to escape, is this correct?”

Anton Rodnenkov: “In short, yes. They wanted to paint a picture of three happy Belarusians leaving the country in a blue minivan.”

Question: “Do you think Maria’s actions came as a surprise to the regime?”

Ivan Kravtsov: “I’m sure the regime never expected anything like this. They still have illusions about some kind of foreign masterminds. They are not yet ready to accept the recent developments, but that’s what the majority of people stand for.”

Question: “Do you have a permit to reside in Ukraine?”

Anton Rodnenkov: “Yes, we received a permit while we were volunteering.”

Question: “What are you planning to do now?”

Anton Rodnenkov: “Planning to contact our team in Minsk, get in touch with our partners in Kyiv. We haven’t even had a proper meal yet.”

Question: “What do you think is the role of the Kremlin?”

Anton Rodnenkov: “There was no Kremlin in Ivan’s and my ordeal.” (…) “The authorities have forced themselves into a complicated situation, at the moment any attempts to deport Maria Kalesnikava will be absurd. So it’s hard to make any predictions. She [Maria] has always been saying that she would never leave Belarus.”