Many Belarusians managed to go abroad after the 2020 protests - now, they are physically inaccessible to the punitive authorities of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The regime understands this and uses all possible means to weed out the concerned part of the Belarusian society that it hates.
Back in January, Lukashenka urged "protesters" to repent, get down on their knees and crawl home. Seeing that threats do not help, the regime's henchmen change their tone from time to time. On September 5th, Aleh Haidukevich, former head of the Frunzenski District Police Department of Minsk (and now an MP), was in a hurry to assure Belarusians that they should not be afraid to return. "No one here is bloodthirsty," he said. "We have a kind enough president. He will also pardon many, and some will be amnestied later."
This "lack of bloodthirstiness" has resulted in the ruined lives of Belarusians who naively decided to return, forgetting that repression is still in full swing in Belarus. Our story is about some of these people.
Mother never saw her son
Aliaksey Reznikau was working abroad but urgently returned to Belarus because of his mother's grave health condition. The 34-year-old Vitsebsk resident was arrested and charged under five articles of the Criminal Code: rehabilitation of Nazism, inciting hatred, insulting the "president" and a representative of the authorities, and desecrating state symbols.
The investigation found all of this in Reznikau's posts and reposts on VK. Aliaksey spent over four months in the Vitsebsk detention center and got four and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony.
His mother never saw her son: she died three days after his arrest.
(Never) returned to his parents
The Hrodna journalist Pavel Mazheyka was detained in August 2022 when he came from abroad to visit his parents in Hrodna. His home was searched, and the man is now in the Hrodna Prison No. 1. The reason for his detention is unknown. It is likely that he has already been charged.
In March 2021, Mazheyka was detained in connection with an exhibition in Hrodna's "Center for Urban Life," which he managed. At the time, a portrait of anti-Soviet underground fighter Yauhen Zhykhar was shown there. The authorities found the author of the painting, artist Ales Pushkin, guilty under articles "Insult to State Symbols" and "Incitement of Enmity or Discord." The officials liquidated the Center for Urban Life, but Mazheyka was released after three days in jail, while Ales Pushkin was sentenced to five years in a strict regime penal colony.
Before his detention in August 2022, Pavel had already been in the millstones of "justice." In 2002, he was sentenced to two years in colony settlement for "slandering" Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
In late August, lawyer Yulia Yurhilevich was detained in Hrodna. She was not released three days after her detention and is now still in the detention center.
The woman left Belarus after she, a lawyer with over 18 years of experience, was expelled from the Hrodna Regional Bar Association in February, allegedly for systematic law violations. The de facto decision was a revocation of her lawyer's license and a ban on her work because, in Belarus, it is impossible for a lawyer to practice outside the state bar associations. A little later, Yulia returned to Belarus, where she was later detained.
Yulia Yurhilevich is a well-known and experienced lawyer. She defended current political prisoners Ales Pushkin, Artsyom Bayarski, Andrei Avsievich and Andrei Sakalouski in court.
From Germany to Belarusian prison
Hrodna resident Yauhen Blokhinski was working as a construction worker abroad when in January 2022, he decided to come home from Germany, and in his homeland, he was immediately arrested. They forced the man to "confess" on camera that he had allegedly participated in internet chats in 2020 in which he called for "mass riots, killing the police, and burning down Tabakerka kiosks." In a penitential video with Yauhen, the "authorities" showed screenshots of correspondence from chats and Blokhinski's Polish residence permit. The man was forced to apologize on camera and say that he was ready to be punished.
Humiliating "remorse" did not help to return to normal life in Germany. Now the Hrodna man is accused of inciting racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord, insulting the "president," of mass disorderly conduct and of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order or of active participation in them.
7 years in prison for policeman's foot
On August 12, 2020, Pavel Linkevich drove an SUV through Baranavichy. Several policemen ran to his car, and the driver ran over the policeman's foot during the maneuver. According to investigators, he did it on purpose. The police chased after Pavel but could not catch up - he abandoned his car near the village of Antonava and fled. The policeman was allegedly seriously injured and taken to hospital. Linkevich, meanwhile, was already in Poland.
In 2022, Pavel decided to return home. It turned out that his homeland had not forgotten him. On May 5, the man was detained and charged under part 2 of article 147 of the Criminal Code - "Intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm."
Pavel was sentenced to 7 years in a strict regime colony. That was the price of his decision to return to Belarus. In addition, the prosecution ordered to confiscate the car and recover 10 thousand rubles in compensation in favor of the policeman.
He came to see his children
An activist Andrei Novikov was first detained in June 2020 for participating in a picket to collect signatures in favor of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The authorities considered the event unsanctioned and later charged the man under Article 342 of the Criminal Code: "Organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order".
In November of the same year, Andrei Novikov was deported to Russia and banned from entering the territory of Belarus for ten years.
But Andrei went against the court order and returned to see his wife and two children. On April 13, 2021, he was detained again and charged under Article 371 of the Criminal Code for illegally crossing the state border. In August 2021, Novikov was sentenced to two and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony.
The "23.34." platform administrator
Authorities do not name the man detained in Belarus, who, according to investigators, was the administrator of the "23.34" protest platform, reportedly collaborating with the "Black Book of Belarus" project. The Prosecutor General's Office of Belarus informs that the personal data on "almost 17 thousand officials, law enforcement officers and soldiers" were found in the selected computer equipment of the accused.
The man made the mistake of returning to Belarus in September 2021. There, he was found and detained by the KGB. According to the Prosecutor General's Office, the man was involved in "the activities of extremist media. The forty-year-old native of the Hrodna region will be tried for "inciting hatred" under Article 130 of the Criminal Code.
"There are no guarantees today, and there should be no illusions! Yes, you can go to Belarus and to Poland, but it may come to an end suddenly, and no one knows when it will happen, at what moment," writes journalist Lyubou Lunyova on Facebook. "Pavel Mazheyka was detained when he went to visit his parents in Hrodna. And who could know that his associates, his relatives, and him are now being hunted up there?
They can accuse him of anything. No one even asks: for what? They just want to know the number of the article of the Criminal Code, just to know how much time a person will spend behind bars...
You can't! You can't go there now if you're a famous person, especially if you're a journalist or a social activist. A stinking cell is waiting in the homeland for everyone who hopes that this misfortune has passed, that they'll see their people and come back. You won't come back," Lyubou Lunyova draws a disappointing conclusion.