“What, bitch? I’m a precinct here. We are the power here.”

An unknown activist tries to help a detainee during the “March of Pride” on October 11. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko / TASS

61-year-old Nina Privalova came to the “March of Pride” on October 11 to donate her book to activist Nina Baginskaya. When riot policemen attacked the demonstrators, she and other women tried to protect them from beatings. At this time, one of the security officers sprayed her face with pepper spray. The retiree was detained. Privalova told Mediazona how riot policemen beat women in the police van, how the security officials humiliated them in the police department and how she spent a week in the hospital with chemical burns to her eyes and respiratory tract.

“Last year my small book, called “In spite of the Dreams of Fate”, was published. This is a book with ordinary people’s stories. I really like to write such stories. I once wrote about orphans, whom I adopted and raised together with my own children. And on October 11, I took this book with me and went to the Stela area, as I wanted to give it to Nina Baginskaya. I like this woman very much. I admire her courage and determination. I respect her for her fight for Belarusians’ freedom.

I took the book. I had no flag, nothing. I met several women I know, and so we stood and talked opposite the Stela area, not far from the hotel [“Planet”]. Some time around 3pm, people began to gather in small groups.

Nina Privalova. Photo: from personal archive

I was standing there with my book, looking for Baginskaya. Everyone just stood there peacefully, talked, greeted each other and shouted “Long live Belarus”. Suddenly, police vans and buses came from all sides, riot police jumped out, there were so many of them! I saw this before on August 11 in Grushevka (residential area of Minsk).

They began to run with batons, beat, grab young people, men, women. You understand, you need to be completely insensitive, you need to be a piece of wood, not to react in any way and to just run away. Even if I did not come to participate in the rally. In fact, I am the daughter of Belarusian partisans. My parents survived the war. So how could I get scared and just run away?

“I hung my backpack covered in blood on an acacia bush.”

Then I found myself surrounded by several women, who were around nine, and in this group, we went towards these riot police officers. They were killing a guy on Pobediteley Avenue. He was lying on the road, covered in blood. He did not move. His flag and his backpack were in blood, they continued to beat him. One riot policeman shouted: “They are throwing stones at us.” However there were apples and pears on the ground, no stones at all.

I hung that backpack covered in blood on an acacia bush. There was a girl standing, holding that flag close to her, she was crying. Some woman offered to give her a plastic bag because blood was dripping from that flag onto the girl’s clothes, she refused. It started raining — the rain washed away all that blood on the asphalt. That young man was thrown into a bus and taken away, we couldn’t help him… I cried for a long time. I thought, God, that was someone’s son. Will his mother ever get him at home?

Then another van drove up. We went towards it with hope not letting them go to the place where the youth still remained. [The riot policeman] suddenly pulled out a [pepper] spray, and I shouted, “What are you doing? Don’t touch our children!” — and he sprayed it all into my eyes, into my mouth and nose, as I was inhaling. I now have a corneal burn and a chemical burn of the respiratory tract.

They dispersed all the people who were there. I joined some women on my way home. As we were walking, we saw a similar incident. There was no one on the bridge near Kalvariyskaya Street, and one guy was walking under it. And he had no flag, nothing at all, he just walked. The van stopped in front of him, ten of them jumped out and began to beat him brutally. We ran there again. “What are you doing? Stop!” — we shouted. No, we didn’t help. We couldn’t do anything.

I have always said that there are no hopeless situations in life. Here they are — there are times when you cannot do anything out of despair at all. They kill in front of your eyes, and you cannot do anything.

“There are a lot of them, these men in black, these spiders. And they rush at people”.

We went towards the Kalvariyskoye cemetery. Again these vanss, paddy wagons are from around the corners. Again, there are a lot of them, these men in black, these spiders, these worms, and they rush at people. And I stood on the sidewalk, I didn’t run anywhere, I raised my eyes to the sky, I said: “God, don’t you really see ? Our people are being killed. Help me.” I shouted: “Let all the murderers, sadists, scum, rapists, let all of them die.” And at that moment, I was grabbed by my jacket and dragged into the van.

The unknown woman was detained at the Pride March on 11 October. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko / TASS

There were already two detained men and five riot policemen. Literally, five minutes later, Lena was dragged into the bus. Later I found out that she is Lena, that she is from Mogilev, but lives in Minsk, that she is an artist. She is 37 years old, although she looks 25, such a beautiful girl. She was all dishevelled, with a backpack full of paints. And they threw her next to me.

The worst thing was on this bus. I will never forget it. Lena did not sit. She could not sit. She was in a reclining state next to me, and in front of me sat a huge man in this balaclava, black overalls. And here she, since her legs were lying on the aisle … Either she touched him a little, or … I don’t know. She did not touch him. The detainees were generally silent, just silent. And she … She didn’t swear, didn’t do anything like that, but she hooked him with her foot.

And so, imagine, such an animal … They already have evil eyes, but here … And he jumps, rushes at Lena, with the huge knee presses on her chest, grabs her throat with his left hand, and hits her on the head with his right hand, across the face. I grabbed him and said, “What are you doing?”

“You’ll also get it bitch,” he shouted.

The riot police were having fun. When Lena began to wheeze, one security officer shouted: “Roma! Roma! That’s enough! “And the second tugged at his hood. And he sat down so tired and breathed so hard. Lena was already lying, she was just lying, all red, breathing so hard. And I was so scared that it would happen again. And I started talking, just so that there was some kind of dialogue because it was impossible. And then I said: “Guys, and if the power changes, then what will you do?” And one says: “But the power will not change.” I said, “What will you do if it changes?” They all laughed together: “We will work as we worked”

Then I turned to this freak and asked: “So your name is Roma, right? Do you realize that you have a sexually dissatisfied pattern of behaviour? Only sexual maniacs can scoff like this.” He said that he had regular sex. “I’ll never believe it in my life, you’re a sex maniac,” I said. He called me a bitch and told me to shut my mouth.

March Of Pride. October 11. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko / TASS

Then Lena came around and said to me: “What are you doing? They are dull. They do not understand.” One of them said that they all have higher education after that phrase. Then I said: “Young men, if you all have higher education, then you could not help but read Omar Khayyam. You know the evil returns. Why don’t you think that the evil that you do will return to you? “

“Will not return,” — the one said.

Then Lena asked for water. One riot policeman took out a bottle of 200 grams from his backpack. There was perhaps a gulp of water. Of course, it was very humiliating to take this water, but I took it because I thought, well, maybe it would be easier for her, at least from these three sips. She drank.

Then the bus stopped, the door opened abruptly and, probably, their boss approached. And he demanded a report. “The one here mouthed philosophy, and the other…” — and I did not hear what the riot policeman said. And the first then said: “********** [beat] this bitch up — he pointed at Lena — in full.”

We were transferred to a paddy wagon. We drove for a long time. We thought it was to Zhodino. Lena said that she did not feel pain, that she did not feel anything. I felt terrible too. There was not enough air. We were suffocating. Lena hit the door with her hand and cried out weakly: “Air.” The air came.

We met in the prison truck. She took my hand, said: “Let’s hold my hand. It will just be easier for us.”

“So what, bitch, what did you see?”

They brought me to the Factory District Department of Internal Affairs. They put everyone from the prison truck against the wall, told to empty the pockets — what was in the pockets was thrown into the bags. And then they took us, probably, to the interrogation rooms. There were 20–30 of us. Lena and I were the only women. She had everything hurt. She sat for a while, then put the backpack under her head and just lay there. She had a fresh scar from the eye to the temple, and her face burned like a tomato. I asked if she felt the scar, she said that she did not feel anything, that she was awful. I offered to ask to call an ambulance, she did not allow it.

At some point, Lena said that everyone here [the detainees, unlike the police officers] were without masks and “why you are hiding your faces, take off your mask.” And an officer who was sitting at the table led, he takes off his mask and says: “So what, bitch, what did you see? I’m a precinct here. And we are the power here. And you won’t do anything to me, bitch.” I told Lena to keep silent and that no one would help us. She fell silent then.

We really wanted to use the toilet. There were two ladies, I went up to one, I said: “Girl, dear, I really want to go to the toilet. Can you somehow help me and Lena to go to the toilet?” “You’ll handle it,” she replied. I sat down. After some time, I went up to another and asked her to take us to the toilet: “You can understand what it means to want to use the toilet?!”. “Wait, I said,” she replied.

One man had diarrhoea there. He also asked to use the toilet. Time passes, I just could not wait. Then I got up, shouted to the whole inquiry point that if they didn’t take me to the toilet, I would sit on the floor and do whatever I needed. And I won’t care what you do to me later. These ladies didn’t even move. As a result, the policeman took three men and me to the toilet. But Lena was not with us, they did not take her.

The men were interrogated first, we were left as icing. My eyes were burned. It was tough to read what was there [in the document]. We were warned that this is a protocol. A lady is standing nearby, repeating several times: read and sign. But I could not read, with my right eye I did not see at all now. I put my signature at the top of the sheet. The woman said there was another signature at the bottom.

A victim during the Pride March on 11 October. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko / TASS

I say: “Stop, what did I sign?” And here I read with my left eye that this was the protocol for participation in the rally. And I grabbed a pen to cross out my signature at the top. She snatched the pen from me. I refused to put my signature at the bottom since I had not participated in any rally.

Lena was interrogated after me. I only later learned that Lena received 15 days in Okrestino Detention centre. My fingers were rolled away, and I was photographed like criminals. A young guy, about 25 years old, who did it, was with us on “You”. He asked me why I was straining my hands and said that he would take prints anyway. And I didn’t resist. I was just stressed. He was the only one, probably. The rest of them were such fat faces that it’s just awful.

An ambulance was called for three men. Two ambulances were standing in the assembly hall examining. I saw a man beaten badly.

“It seemed that the lungs were bursting. I did not see with my right eye”.

Before we were released, we were all gathered in the assembly hall. A big screen was turned on, which showed how good Lukashenka is and how the police protect the people. And I saw myself in my pink jacket, in this coupling with women, only from the side. Someone took pictures, maybe with BT. In short, I saw myself on the screen sitting in this room.

We were released around 10 PM.

The children met me, took me home. I felt horrible. I washed my entire face for a long time. By the morning, I felt really awful. As the doctor later said in this Belarusian way — here, everything would pass by itself. I was gasping for breath. It seemed that my lungs were torn, torn to pieces, I did not see with my right eye.

An ambulance was called, and first, they took me to the fourth hospital, provided first aid, and poured something down my throat. It helped, but not for long. And then they brought me to the emergency hospital. And the doctor said that he could not let me go, seeing my condition, he left me for a day. I was at the ophthalmologist and ENT. They said they would not let me go until the condition improved. It improved, [but the doctors didn’t want to let me go yet, so] I wrote a receipt myself and was discharged on October 19, after spending a week in the hospital.

It’s hard to be without loved ones. It was some kind of disaster. This is the toxicology department. I was the only one with such a diagnosis. The rest are suicides, drunkards, Lukashenko’s supporters only, forgive me for it. It’s impossible.

When I was in the hospital, they called from the migration service and said that I should come to them. They said that I have Russian citizenship and asked what I was doing at the rally on the 11th. I am Belarusian. It is my native land! I was born in the village of Khodorovka, Mogilev region, and finished school. Unfortunately, all my parents died. Grandfathers, grandmothers, all relatives are buried in Belarus.

When there was the Soviet Union, my husband, daughter and I went to the Tyumen [region], we wanted to earn some money. But that was the Soviet Union. Nobody asked us then if we wanted to separate. That was the nineties. We were faced with the fact whether we want to stay here. And I had a job, my husband had a job, my daughter went to school. And we stayed. But then we were told that we should take Russian citizenship or leave for Belarus and then apply for Belarusian citizenship. We didn’t leave. And then the son was born, my husband and I parted, he stayed there. And in 1998 we returned to our homeland. And since then, we have been living here.

The book is with me now, returned home. Will I still try to present it? Sure!

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Voices from Belarus

Voices from Belarus

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