Gleb
— photographer and an artist. It was hard for him to go through the situation in the country since the beginning of the COVID crisis, and after the elections, he was involved in active protest activities. Since August 2020, he felt that he could not allow himself to rest.


I studied political science and, ironically, all my life, due to my studies at this department, I had a totally apolitical position. One way or another, I understood that any kind of politics is violence against ordinary citizens. Whereas I am not interested in the fighting of one force against another. In that fight, innocent people are always the victims. For that reason, I have never been involved in it, I was simply not interested. In addition, for a long time, I was building my life in such a way that the government had no concern about me at all.

This is indeed an amazing feature of Belarusians: in 26 years we managed to build a political vacuum in which we shape our lives so that they aren't connected to the authorities and government at all. Nevertheless, everything has changed a lot over the last six months. COVID happened in the spring. The complete inaction and incompetence of the authorities — all that was so humiliating for ordinary citizens. It hurt me a lot and I started getting politicized.

July was the first month of activities for me. That was when I began to take part in events: visiting all sorts of "solidarity chains" and marches, sticking posters around the city, and other political activism. In this regard, I was constantly creating different kinds of new ideas that could help in the struggle.

It was a strange time, very promising. When you believe in what you do. For the first time in your life, you feel so many people who think just like you. You understand that Belarus is changing day by day. It surprises you, it inspires you, you live in it, but at the same time, you understand that the imminent f*ck-up will come, anyway. You realize that now — there is life, there are elections, but what will be after the elections — no one knows.

Same as me, most of my friends — we all used to live day by day before August 9th. I mean, everyone had plans until August 9. After that date, no one understood what would happen. In July, I was still allowing myself to forget about everything for a couple of days, to rest. Although it was then when I discovered inside myself an ardent desire to be politically active in everything, including artistic practices. It was so great to understand that what you do is important. More important than any other individualistic need. Then, the elections happened...

The beginning of August was such a hell. The first three or four days, when all these terrible military actions took place, you coudn't relax even for a second: you simply don't have any such state inside. Constant tension , constantly under attack… You look back, think about where you are, what is happening around you, what you write on the Internet. In addition, I also volunteered with the detained. Several friends of mine were in prisons. During the day you are volunteering, trying to figure out who is where, how to transfer the package. Then, in the evening, you go on the street, stay there till night and return home late, barely fall asleep. That's how we spent 4 days. It was quite intense. Everyone slept for a couple of hours: it was impossible to sleep properly because of that continuous nightmare.

Then the relief came: the guys were released from prisons, people took to the streets, and — it has started. You can say that life has become a bit easier. But the problem is that having fallen into this rhythm, it is very difficult to give it up. I started filming protests: for two weeks without any break I was visiting all the rallies and marches. And, in fact, it became my second job. I was lucky to have a psychotherapist and all this time I had the support and help with questions about how to process all that. Because there were times when I did not understand by myself how to process all that. Good thing I went to the village for three days, rebooted myself a bit. Then, everything continued in September.



My life has seriously changed because of all this. I hardly watched movies, I drank tea very rarely, and I completely stopped riding a bicycle; even though I used to adore these things. Many variables can explain this abandonment of hobbies. Firstly, I began to pay a lot of attention to art, I simply had no time for anything else. Secondly, the bicycle became an unsafe vehicle in Minsk, so I had to abstain from it.

While cinema and tea — these are things that require a lot of time, a calm state of mind, you must not be in a rush to anywhere. Moreover, in order to watch a good movie, a person must have a desire to experience some new emotions, and be ready for strong emotions. A good movie doesn't just happen. And when there are so many experiences per square minute of life, you just get tired of them and you want to take your mind off it.
For example, you want to watch some kind of a melancholic movie, but before watching, you open the news and understand: well, it's the limit... Having lived in Belarus for a long time, people are not used to such a speed of feelings. So all these entertainments took a back seat. It's hard to go through all of it emotionally even without such entertainment.
In general, during off hours, a priority system regarding activities has emerged. Every Sunday actually falls out because you go out for a walk. On Monday you rest from Sunday. During the week you come up with something else, implement something. Nevertheless, you still have to work, to earn a living somehow, because if you die of hunger — you will stop resisting the regime.

These 2-3 months — July, August, and September — passed at great speeds, non-stop. It was only in October when I started taking some breaks, and even then, rather forcefully. It simply became clear that all these events would be delayed for a long time. We came to the realization that we are switching from a sprint distance to a marathon. You rush and rush and rush, and then you realize that if you rush for another two weeks, then you will simply fall out of life for a month, completely burnt out.

That is why I had to force myself to rest. Because no matter how much I considered myself responsible or aware, anyway, I had a moment when I became addicted to this adrenaline. It became a comfortable state for me. It's some kind of a paradigm shift with normal life. When not the norm becomes the norm. When this running around, being constantly in the news context, at rallies, on the street — not in a safe environment — becomes usual. And, at some point, all that becomes your everyday life. It becomes everything that you have. On the contrary, on the day when nothing happens, you think: "Damn, what do I do now?".


So I was filming protests. At one of them, I realized that my favorite type of filming of events — documenting events — is exactly the same adrenaline high, which brings no positive results nor for me, nor for society, but only an temporary wow-effect. At that moment, I thought that I should go into art because it is a much more significant language for me.

It was, perhaps, for a whole month, that I dove deep in such intense everyday work. We even decided to go to Kyiv for 2 weeks, since I realized that I was going crazy at that time. Moreover, in September, our close friend — an artist — was detained for her July art performance.

At the very beginning of October, I filmed one thing that went viral. It caught a lot of attention; I was not ready for all this. My artist friend, who was detained then, later wrote me to be more careful. It turned out that I am involved in her case. There is a photograph in the case file, for which she was convicted, where I stand with her at a rally. In our law enforcement agencies, as far as I understand it, it works in such a way that no one bothers you until you appear somewhere two or three times. Precisely after this episode, my girlfriend, I, and a friend decided to go to Kyiv. Because I understood that if someone was touched by my video, he would come soon.

It could be, of course, that I overworked and panicked a little because of the reach: I did not expect it, I did not know what I should do with it. It's better to protect yourself. I took all the equipment out of the house because I had parallel projects that I worked on because when 'they' come to arrest you they seize it all. I did not want to lose the work I had on my computer. The other thing that worried me was that there would be some additional accusations. That's why I just took everything away. At that moment, I already started thinking about moving to another country. I went to Kyiv, particularly, to see how it would be to live there: I monitored places of work, of housing. It was such a micro-reconnaissance.
For a whole week before the trip, I fell asleep every day thinking they were going to come after me tomorrow. I thought about what I would say, how I would explain my involvement in the protest?
At that time, there was nothing terrible about such probability in Belarus. In my opinion, everyone had been ready for this for a long time. I understood that I would be detained for a maximum of 15 days and then get out, and everything would be fine. Nobody will beat or rape me there, and there is nothing horrible with administrative arrest. I just knew that I needed to do everything so that it would not exceed an administrative arrest so that no more serious accusations were thrown at me. That's all.


One thing shocked me in Kyiv (I have never seen anything like that before): for the first time, I saw the Belarusian migrants watching the protest. It is a special emotional state of Belarusians who, for any reason, cannot go to the Sunday march. They are following the news so actively that, at one point, I stopped understanding why for what. Such an oppressive feeling of self-flagellation, when you cannot do anything, cannot help (you are in another country), you can only support. Nevertheless, you are still worried. I even thought these people were worrying much more than I, being at the protest. It's very sad, I immediately remembered that Sunday march, which I missed for the first time.

It was a feeling that you will betray everyone if you don't go out on Sunday: betray the idea, betray everything that happened before. The psychological pressure is very strong, but you are the one doing it to yourself.

My case wasn't very heroic: I didn't go out for the first time on Sunday march simply because I got very drunk the day before and woke up still drunk. I felt so bad that I had to accept that I shouldn't go. That's when I first experienced this feeling, I missed the Sunday march for the first time. I was monitoring the news all day and worrying. At the end of the day, I was exhausted from stress. Then I wondered... What is it? For everyone, the Sunday march is such an important experience. There is a strong faith in what is happening. You want to be there. You want to support. You want to help, but you don't know how. This is not a very pleasant feeling: as if your friends are being beaten up and you are locked at home.

Frankly speaking, I still think that being at the march is easier than sitting at home and watching the news. Now, I have become much calmer. But the first time (and when we were in Kyiv) I clearly understood that I felt as comfortable as possible attending the march alone. I know exactly where I am, and what is happening. My internal controller is on, I assess the environment, set up strategies. While when you are at home, this controller tries to turn on, but it only hurts you. You are trying to control a situation that is out of your control. You are powerless in it. Also being at home you have to force yourself to calm down, to turn off your restless mind, which actually never stops.

This clear sense of continuous danger You get very tired of it. Moreover, you do not understand this right away. For a while, you feel comfortable with it, and just then you realize that you don't have any strength left. In addition, you also feel permanent anger and a feeling of hopelessness about everything that is happening. Being just a little man, you stand in front of a huge power machine, and you try to hit it, but your hits mean nothing to this machine. This state is quite hard for me. And it is hard for many people.

And it doesn't disappear, because it is provoked by the news as well. It also does not disappear, because you still have Sundays, when you remember that there are many of you and that you will overcome everything. Though, exactly from Monday to Friday, you are in such a state… The government strikes back, everyone gets detained and people simply disappear.

Monday has become a hangover day for me. Very challenging. Firstly, you get physically tired on Sunday, because you walked all day. Secondly, you have an emotional hole, because on Sunday everyone comes out, on Sunday everything is so awesome! Then, on Monday, you see the lists of detainees, you see how many people were hospitalized. Besides the fact that you were overjoyed the day before, the news is chasing you.

Some stupid directives, messages of politicians — even it can push you over the edge because you don't understand how unfair the world can be, how great people's lie can be. In this regard, Belarusians are a super virgin nation that not only lacks the baggage of protests, the skills of behaving at protests, but also the emotional capacity to process it all. For me, as for many others, it happened for the first time and is happening now.

Therefore, this is growing up, these are the bruises that every nation needs, but they happened with our generation and it is we who have to get through it.

I can say for sure, these three months, I lived in a continuous state of constant rational control of the situation. The state when I did not allow myself to experience feelings and emotions. This is quite a traumatic thing. On the one hand, it is correct: once you are "at war", you have basic needs — to survive, and experiencing a whole range of different feelings — a feeling of beauty or pain, — takes a lot of energy.

Accordingly, you block these feelings in yourself for a while and rush on. But the psyche works in a way that these feelings press on you from the inside, and it gets harder and harder and harder for you, you become angrier, irritated, and you do not understand why.
Then, at some point, I realized that I had not processed it since August 9, I had not processed it at all. I remember that in all that time I cried once, although I wanted to cry roughly twenty times.
But once again, there's a feeling that it's unsafe to be open to emotion. When I let these feelings be, including negative feelings caused by the news, by the political situation — it hurts. And this pain... It hurts for the first time, it hurts for the fifth time, it hurts for the tenth time, — then you start wondering: why the hell do I feel so much pain? For what? It is easier without all that.

Now I'm trying to return to this normal life, where I can both feel and think. I'm trying to bring that balance back. Art helps me a lot in that. Yet still, for me, it's like learning to walk again. The task is of the same complexity. These feelings turned out to be so deeply blocked that even just to experience something — without analyzing it, without replacing it with a rational analysis of feelings — it takes a titanic effort for me.

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