“I don’t want to run into ex-colleagues”. Riot police representative about changing career for IT.

Voices from Belarus
11 min readJul 23, 2020


A couple of years ago, S. served in Riot police. Being disappointed with the job, he quitted and studied frontend — now he works remotely for a Ukrainian company. He talked with dev.by about his Riot police job routine and how it was to leave for IT.

The interlocutor asked not to indicate his name — he doesn’t want to be recognised by ex-colleagues. Apart from him, we tried to contact four other former military officers who left for IT. They refused to talk.

I threw the shield and said: “I’m done! The attitude is like we are a herd”.

In my youth, I was keen on sports, I trained 6 days a week, hoping to serve in SOBR or Almaz (anti-terrorist special unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. — dev.by) when I grew up. I joined the army with enthusiasm.

And there I faced first disappointment: in my imagination, I had another picture of how it should be. I thought that the Airborne troops had a serious selection of officers, but in my company one 18-year-old guy was already “coded” against alcoholism, another couldn’t even pull up five times. I was shocked.

After the army I thought of joining Riot police, but my father was worried and dissuaded me: “What if they throw a bottle at you or hit your head with a stone.” Under the patronage of his comrade, I joined a military structure where I kept order and transferred commands: easy but very boring.

Once a major came to agitate us to join Riot police. We talked, I said that I would like to train more and not “shift the papers”. He welcomed me to Riot police.

It wasn’t difficult to pass the selection. The strangest was the conversation with a psychologist. He “tagged” everyone — drug addicted, computer games addicted. I had a tag: “Alphonse.” I bursted out.

There were plenty of unacceptable things for me in my work: you are told “to get 3 people”. If you don’t detain anyone during the shift, you will be scolded: “You are chasing badly”. I often failed, I couldn’t just “grab” people on the street. Some guys tried to invent detainees saying they took an Albert Pupkin to the police department.

One more thing I didn’t like was the attitude of the management to us, like you are rubbish. When you try to quit, you are promised that everything will be all right, but it’s a lie. No one cares whether you’ve had rest or not, whether you’ve eaten or are hungry. Want to go out for lunch or even just go to the restroom? Forget about it. And they’ll call you up to work, “urgently”, during your days off as well.

And you can’t refuse — this is disobedience, you are not following the order.

I can recollect one case: during a training, the guy fell out with the captain, threw down his shield and said: “I’m done! The attitude is like we are a herd.” He cursed at everyone, left and never appeared again.

“They put two troops into a prison truck and drove to some yards”

It irritated that communication among Riot police guys is only in foul language. When in Rome, do as the Romans do — you don’t bring up your co-workers, you’ll just get used to it. And filthy language becomes the norm. Day by day you start to swear and friends start to pay attention to it.

I wanted to become more qualified and leave for SOBR where I could do real things. I knew that guys in SOBR train every day: shooting, hand-to-hand combat — that was what I wanted. The tests I had to pass to get into Riot police were very easy for me. I wanted big loads.

There is nothing special I can tell about the protests. Once they put two troops into a prison truck and drove to some backyards, we were sitting and waiting for a command for half of a day. Luckily, no command came. I was honestly glad — I can’t stand violence.

I haven’t hit a single person during my Riot police career, although some deserved a lesson. For example you detain hooligans — and they charge at, insult you. You twist and lay them down gently — and that’s it. Or you take a drunk person to a local police department, and it’s closed. You won’t wait until the policeman comes and you let the drunk man go. And he runs 20 meters away and starts to swear at you. But the conscience does not allow you to chase him.

Once my colleague and I were walking around the area and saw a suspicious young man: he was talking to himself and was looking for something in the grass. We thought maybe he looked for a drug tab. We started a conversation with him — and he began to charge at us. We twisted him so as not to injure, and took to a prison truck. And he began to yell: “I will shit everything here.” I remained calm: I understood that a person was emotionally unstable. And another Riot police officer hit him with a baton. “Why are you doing this?”- I asked. “It’s clear that this person is not adequate, and something is wrong with the psyche.” Then it turned out that the detainee had a 7B certificate — it means that he is mentally ill. He was taken to mental hospital.

“They used to beat me, but now I am the one who beats” — “And who are you after that?”

I saw a lot of things I didn’t like. For example, a policeman pushed 2 young men to sign the protocol. ”Give me a phone, I’ll call parents” — “No, sign the paper!” If they sign, they plead guilty. If they don’t sign, they are detained with the homeless for a whole day, as the policeman threatens the guys. And the most horrible thing is that there’s no use to speak to such people, because they like what they do. In such a way they feel power.

The last straw was a phrase of one Riot police guy. We were in a prison truck and suddenly he said: “They used to beat me, but now I am the one who beats”. And I asked: “And who are you after that?”

You put on a uniform and feel imaginary power, you understand that you will not be attacked as it is illegal. But you take off your uniform and become invisible, and if someone strong approaches you, you will run away, because you are brave only when wearing the uniform.

I was struck by his words. I realized that there are plenty of such people. To join Riot police, you need to survive three rounds with different opponents in hand-to-hand combat. The point is not that you win, but that you don’t give up and don’t run away (running away for a Riot police officer is a shame). But now they also accept guys who turn away, surrender after the first round.

I watched this and realised that I can’t stand it. I saw good guys leaving Riot police.

Normally, in Riot police are guys from the province: they are provided with a place in the dormitory, they can take a mortgage for an apartment, the salary is fine — 800–900 BYN (290–330 euro) for a start. What else do you need? They were joking: “We beat people, and so what?” And I didn’t find it funny. I didn’t understand them.

Before entering Riot police when I was watching the TV and saw people being detained, Ithought: it’s OK, because they are provoking. But when you work in Riot police, you understand, that maybe it’s the guys you work with that are the provocateurs. They provoke just to get an excuse for detaining. I’m glad I didn’t take part in such things.

I can’t say it took a long time to quit. I was called by the commander. I explained that I expected something completely different: “I don’t want to chase homeless people on the streets. That’s not for me.” I was fired with no problems.

“If one Riot police officer could start a career in IT, then any other would be able to.”

I had no plan B. I failed to join SOBR as I was sick and failed a test. I had heard about IT — but for me it seemed a different world where only math geeks could enter. And then I discovered that some of my mates started to work in IT. I came across an interview with a former Riot police officer who became a QA engineer. He claimed he found a job straight after courses. I realised that if he managed, I could manage too. I started to study the matter.

Got a job at a warehouse. The plan was to save up enough to study later without any distraction. I wasn’t ready to study two hours a day after work, I didn’t want the process to drag for months.

I would work double or even triple shifts at the warehouse. I would get there at 8 a.m., work till 11 p.m., stay for the night and only go home in the morning for 5–6 hours of sleep. One month I had only 5 days-off. I made then 1250$ — a considerable sum.

I wanted to make the same money by using my brain, not physical work. In 10 months I was completely burnt-out, lost 15 kilos. I left for a vacation but rested only 5 days, the rest 25 I studied HTML.

After the vacation, I worked for 2 months and quitted, didn’t want to put off the studies any further. I liked frontend development but everyone around argued that the best way to get into IT is testing: “And once you get a job, you can study to become a developer”. So I took a course in testing. Now I regret this, it was very weak. At the end of the course, our teacher offered some of the students to go for an interview at his company, and everyone was rejected as their knowledge was insufficient.

Right after the course I started looking for a job but got denials only: sorry, you have neither relevant experience nor the knowledge of English. That’s true, in English I could only say “my name is…”. Then I deleted my CV from everywhere and started learning English.

I had a strict schedule: got up at 6 a.m., had breakfast, then studied for 3–4 hours. Read, watched videos, studied grammar, worked on vocabulary. On the first day, I wrote down and remembered 50 most commonly used verbs, the next day I added 10 more, then as many every day.

In the first month, a tutor from the US helped me. Then I was self-teaching with the book Essential Grammar in Use. By the end of the 2nd month of studies I understood some spoken language, could read but didn’t speak at all, when I was addressed to, I was just numb. A friend of mine helped me, he took me to visit his American friend just to get me talking.

After three months of studying, I applied for an intensive course of English, for the Elementary group, but got enrolled for an Intermediate course. Then I decided it was time to catch up with the frontend. I was already skeptical about the courses, I was afraid it would be the same as my previous experience, “I sent you a file, now learn it”. And then I just happened to see an Instagram ad: a developer was recruiting students for an online course. I messaged him, we met — he promised to teach only those things which he himself needed at work, no fluff. I was happy with that.

The study went the following way: he sent the material, I studied it. If something wasn’t clear, we discussed it. At the same time, the teacher gave me JS tasks and tested my knowledge. In two months we moved to React.

I studied hard, sometimes up to 20 hours a day. At times it was so difficult that my brain was blowing, three times I wanted to give it all up. But of course, I wouldn’t. I intentionally didn’t make a plan B, only plan A, to become a developer, with no other options to back down.

I think only 2% of security forces want to change their job and even monitor vacancies. But they are afraid.

In 5 months my teacher told me to start looking for a job. I doubted and thought I wasn’t ready. But one evening I posted my CV on LinkedIn and the next morning an HR manager contacted me. And here I am, working.

The company is in Ukraine. The work is remote, the employees are scattered all over the world. Sometimes I regret I don’t have a mentor here, I have to solve all tasks by myself. But in such cases, my teacher comes to help me. And after I wrote on LinkedIn that I had recently quit SWAT, there turned up developers ready to mentor me. That was very rewarding.

The photo is illustrative

In fact, I enjoy dealing with the tasks, I can stay up for 24 hours when I work, I sometimes forget to have meals. I used to flex muscles, now I flex the brain, and it’s hungry and demands more and more knowledge.

The plans are to develop, get more experience. I applied for a course in frontend from The Rolling Scopes. Later I would love to pick up Backend too, study Node.JS. Remote work is cool but it would be nice to work in an office, in a team.

Can other people from security forces follow my example? Yes, they can. If they want to. When I myself decided to become a developer everyone around asked me: “Where are you sticking your nose?”, they thought my chances were the same as heading for Mars. Only a few people supported me. But what is interesting, my friend had classmates who barely made it through high school, I thought they would drink themselves to death or get into jail. I met them recently, and they are working in IT. That’s it! It’s a matter of motivation.

Among those in security forces, there are brainy guys, about 2% want to change the job. They even monitor vacancies. But they’re afraid, they have two deterrents: “it’s not mine” or “it’s too difficult”. It’s as if they need someone who will take them by their hand: “I’ll lead you, you’ll only have to study”, then maybe some of them would agree.

As for the rest, they don’t need it. Not that they say that nobody wants people from SWAT in civil life but it is in the air. Almost everyone thinks so.

What comes to my mind when I’m reading the news about the detentions on the streets? As a citizen, I’ll say: it’s scary. As a former SWAT officer, I’ll confess that it’s no surprise. It has always been like this: they hear an order and take an action.

I myself wouldn’t like to run into ex-colleagues. I thought about what would happen if I got caught and taken to a paddy wagon, probably I’d try to have a normal conversation with them. Even though I know it’s useless. And what I would really like to happen is to be sure that nobody can ever come up to me and say: “You are fired. You yourself should understand, why”.

This is a translation of the article previously published on DEV.BY on the 29nd of June, 2020.



Voices from Belarus

Stories of people hoping for a democratic Belarus. Created, translated and moderated by a collective of independent authors.