Alexandr
— young programmer from Grodno, he studied energy engineering, and he had never been interested in politics before this summer. He was engaged in activism in the run-up to the elections, and after it, he actively participated in the protest movement. No matter how much he accomplished, he always felt that could have done more.


It's very funny to remember now, but I've never been a politically active person at all. I always treated it like this: why should I change everything here, if I can just move to a better country, where there are humane conditions and a humane attitude?

It's not as if I didn't really understand what was happening in our country. I faced the regime quite early. At the age of 16-17, while studying at school, I participated in a project of informal education. There were almost all sorts of hobby clubs for children: art, technology, etc. The project itself was not sponsored by Belarus — they used foreign money for renting the space. Because of this, the KGB became interested in it. Then, their interest switched to people like me — 16-17-year-old schoolchildren. They hacked all our social networks, monitored all correspondence. The principal was pressured, and after that, he invited project participants for a talk.

I still remember it, he told me: "They will come on black Volgas, they will take us. You have no idea what will happen next, what kind of people they are." Just after the conversation with the principal, I opened Vkontakte (I had a lot of unread chats there) — everything was already marked as read, it creeped me out. Yet, even after that, I didn't become more politicized. I just thought: "F*ck, I definitely need to move to a better country".
Of course, I heard that people were being killed and politicians were being imprisoned. But such an order of things was here all my adult life, so I thought: maybe it is like this everywhere? Maybe it doesn't go beyond the normal?
Generally, the story of my involvement, in fact, is not remarkable at all. This summer, my brother and his wife went on vacation. They have two cats at home, so they asked me to look after them. I stayed for a week, watched YouTube from their home account, and the recommendations were full of politics. I started getting politicized, watched some videos — and it made me so mad! Finally, I saw — not even saw, but realized — this terrible situation with the elections: that candidates were excluded, that some of them are already imprisoned.

Something inside me clicked, I realized – that's enough! I can't stand aside anymore, it's simply impossible to stay indifferent anymore. After that, I started reading much more news, on July 15, when Babariko wasn`t permitted to participate in the elections: he was imprisoned under false accusations. That was when I showed up on the square for the first time — we had a rally in Grodno. Before that, I used to watch everything online, and when I saw that a protest was being planned, I immediately wrote to all my friends and acquaintances. I wrote: "Well, are we going out today?" — and almost everyone put pluses, meaning that they were going too. And it was so pleasant, I had this feeling that many were involved in the process. I was, of course, still young and green, I asked: "Well, when will they beat us with batons?"

At that time it was more like an adventure: the first protest, watching everything, wondering, what was going to happen? I faced more serious problems only later; for a while, it was fun and interesting. The feeling of unity and the thrill of anticipation of a new bright experience.

After that — it started! Before the elections, my acquaintances and I were putting up flyers about the "Voice" platform [the platform for an alternative vote counting], so that people would know that it was possible to count votes honestly! We could post more than 500 of these flyers on all apartment building entrances in one evening. We were distributing white bracelets [the symbol of honest elections and opposition to the existing authority]. I handed out about 400 bracelets by myself. And it was so pleasant: about 70 percent of passers-by knew about these ribbons and took them with pleasure. The others just asked what those were for. I mean, there was no one who did not take one on principle.

Because all this activity was in the evening — after work, — I was very tired. At first, it was a kind of a pleasant fatigue. This is the very case when you understand: if you don't do this, you will feel bad. You will feel as if you are suppressing the desire to do something. Therefore, I dove into such activism headfirst. Yes, I was very thorough, I was exhausting myself, but after that, I felt that it was not for nothing, that I was doing something important even for myself.

When the elections finished, the form of activity changed, of course. I went to protests almost every evening, I continued putting up flyers, and talking to people.

There was a feeling that there are days of protest — when things happen, and there are ordinary days — when everything is as usual. It was important for me to see that the struggle continues and we exist everywhere and at all times. I wanted other people to see it and to remember it too.

Throughout September, we went out once a week to paint graffiti. There was a feeling that we were finally achieving the goal, which we set for ourselves: we were noticed on "ordinary" days too. Wherever we drew, workers of the housing bureau together with the security forces, were already at 9 am painting over our works. When I passed by, I always thought: "Work on! Work all day long. And remember about us!" Firstly, drawing like this at night, of course, is scary. But then you just get used to it. It is generally impossible not to get used to life in constant wild stress. When I arrived in Kyiv, I had crazy mood swings for the first two weeks. Because in the recent months in Belarus, I've gotten used , that life is full of anxiety and intense events, but here — nothing really happens.

Yet still, August 9 was a turning point. In a political sense, everything turned upside down. My friends and I, we all voted in Grodno. I remember, we laughed a lot at a friend who forgot to take a picture of the ballot in order to send it to the "Voice" platform. Some people stayed at the polling stations to see the results, we stayed there for a while, but then we immediately went to the square. It was very important for us to go out on the streets on the day of elections so that the authorities could see that we are not indifferent, that it does matter for us.

We arrived a little early, there were not so many people yet, so we decided to sit by the road next to a flower bed — to wait. Literally immediately, 5 minutes later, a minibus drove up and half of our company was taken away. I sat in silence, I did not move, I almost did not even breathe. I could not believe it: they didn't take me simply because the bus was already full. I watched how they took my friends one by one, there was panic in my head, but I said to myself: "Don't move, don't move, stay calm". Of course, it was incredibly frightening, but the further it goes — the more you adapt: you just... feel nothing, as if something inside that is responsible for the fear turns off.

Even this day was telling in this regard. People from the square were dispersed, but after a while they came out again and filled the square, they were dispersed again — they came out again. And you see a huge column coming, and you don't see the end of it, that's really cool! All these months passed likewise: your fear just disappears, you do everything automatically. That same evening, I got into an interlocking line on the road with another 200 people who came to protest. Because of it, I later had to leave the country.

Overnight of August 9, I had some almost like Vietnam flashbacks: how we stand, the interlocking line, how the OMON [riot police] comes to beat us. And I remember, I woke up because I started to breathe so frequently, I was panicking, I really felt bad. My friends said they had experienced something similar too.

I was so actively involved that I almost stopped eating after the first two weeks after the elections because of constant activity and worrying. From the exhaustion, in the evening, I got light-headed. And then I realized that I had to take it easier.

What brought me to Ukraine? One day, they came to my work with OMON buses to take me. Why? I didn't know. A man came into our office. My coworkers told him that I was absent. He went back to the bus, waited for an hour and then returned with a subpoena to the investigation committee saying that I had to come there as a witness. I was shocked — it was scary! Do they come for witnesses in such a manner? For three weeks I have already lived in an apartment of my brother and his wife, because it was rented and my name was not specified anywhere. This was a precautionary measure, just in case, because I showed up in many places, I had dyed hair, I am tall, so — you never know. And now this 'you never know' happened.

I was sitting, I had an online work meeting with customers, and suddenly several people at once wrote to me in chat: "Sasha, run away. They have come for you". I decided to clarify what was happening and stopped for a while to think. I drew a plan in my head: how to escape unnoticed into the backyard, if suddenly something starts. Nevertheless, I did not have to, they left the subpoena in the office and left.

Finally, I decided to go to the committee. I was afraid not to appear: what if otherwise they would take me in for a more serious cause. I took a lawyer with me right away. During the interrogation, they showed me a video of the interlocking line where I was standing. They asked what it was, whether I recognized anyone, where it was. I just played dumb (on the advice of my lawyer), I said that I knew nothing and did not recognize anyone. They asked my phone — for confiscation, but I did not bring it with me and lied that I had smashed it. Therefore, I had to come again: to give my phone "for examination by investigation". Fortunately, I really had an old broken phone at home, which I had not used for a long time. The second time I came without a lawyer: I do not have that much money actually. Nevertheless, before that second visit, I received a legal consultation from him.
I was kinda frightened by the serenity, with which my lawyer gave me advice. He simply said with a stone face: "If they start beating you, then try to dial me — I will record the fact of the attack and try to get to you. If you do not have time, just shout very loudly". You know, as if it is a common thing! I was super creeped out by that.
Eventually, everything went well: I gave them my old phone, wrote some kind of receipt and went home. I called my lawyer, and he told me that it looks like they are now looking for scapegoats, who can be imprisoned for those events in August: they are studying videos, calling people in for questioning. The fact that I was in that interlocking line — de facto expressed resistance to the police officers, disrupted road traffic — is already a criminal offence, if they really wanted it to be.

In general, the lawyer scared me pretty much, and I realized that I could end up in prison for a long time. Therefore, I planned everything literally in one day. In the evening, I went to a bar with friends, I told a couple of people about my plans, and that was it. I bought tickets to Kyiv, packed up, and arrived here.

During my first week in Kyiv, I walked a lot, non-stop, because I felt so messed up. I needed activity, otherwise I felt bad physically. That feeling was similar to how it is described when someone returns from a war. Like in Remarque's novel. It's not about some obsessive memories, but just strong jitters: you start shaking, but mostly emotionally, — this feeling cannot be rationally explained. Just terrible anxiety and shaking.

Therefore, I try not to watch the news: it is really stressful for me. Ultimately, I still watch it. I understand that it brings just a total frustration and worry, but I can't do anything about it. Once I read the news, I start feeling strong anger and anxiety again. Such a destructive emotion, because it only makes me feel worse. Yeah, I have the same problems with sleep as I had in Belarus, and now — in Ukraine. Because of stress, for the last couple of weeks, I couldn't sleep at all; I regularly fall asleep in the morning.
Yet still, there is this feeling as if I had simply fled, but could have continued fighting, despite everything. For example, go to a remote work, live in that brother's apartment, which is not registered in my name. I could stay there and continue my activities. I also thought that I could ask some homeless man for a bottle of vodka to register a SIM card in his name — 'they' would never find me at all. I often replay this scenario in my head.

But anyway, I always had a feeling that I could have done more. Before, in Belarus, I just tried more, when this feeling appeared. Sometimes, when the body refused to work, I stopped to rest for a day or two and again — into the battle. But now it's impossible. I left and I cannot do anything. It is terribly hard to realize this. When I watch the news, I think that I could have been there, with everyone!

It's very lonely here. I am used to other things. I had a big company of friends in Grodno, on Fridays we always gathered at one bar. That was 'our' place. But when I came here — I became totally alone, I don't know a single soul. Even more, after all these events, my attitude to life changed. Now I divide everything into categories: there are things that really matter — when you can be killed, imprisoned for a long time, crippled; and — everything else. That 'everything else' is not so important. On the one hand, it's easier to be yourself, when you do not think what people think of you. But sometimes such a position is very hindering when you interact with other people: it creates some kind of a social barrier.

They talk to you about certain things — about some quarrels with friends, about problems at the university, — and there is nothing in your head but a sincere devaluation of all this. Even though you don't want to, you still think: "My goodness, do you really care about this?" And then comes understanding that completely different topics are important to you. That you think at different levels. And no matter how disappointing it is, you understand that your level is lower. Your basic needs are covered — you are alive and safe — so everything is fine. Whereas, their lever is higher, because at the basic level everything is fine and other things worry them. I want to become free of it, to settle down, to find a compromise with myself. So I try to work on myself: I read less news and take more care of myself.

It is funny that before, I always wanted to move to another country. But when these events happened, for the first time I felt that this is my country and I would be ready to stay there after all this, in the clusterf*ck that is to come. Just because I want to help. A feeling of solidarity appeared that I had never experienced before. Wherever I am now, the words 'people' and 'homeland' mean a lot to me.


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