— activist and an artist. A turning point for her was the moment when she was almost detained on the march in memory of Roman Bondarenko. After that, she lost her ability to speak for a couple of days and realized that she is insanely afraid. She is afraid for her life, her well-being, and for her capacity to keep fighting
After 2010, I decided that I would build my life distancing myself as far as I can from the government. That was when I missed my first elections. All that happened next — were bouts of nausea in the presence of cops and provoked by the interior design of certain local administration.

To survive in this city, I tried to influence social changes by myself. That is why I work in the sector of culture and civic activism. Nowadays, many people say that the boom of solidarity was in August. Belarusians woke up! But we always had lots of social initiatives in areas where help was needed for vulnerable groups. We have several independent activist organizations, which exist without government support.

This year, everyone finally understood that we do not only solve our problems by ourselves, but we are feed this parasitic power. Thus, this summer, everything that was obvious to some small groups became obvious to everyone. The coronavirus issue had an impact on it. We got an opportunity to compare how different countries cope with it and how valuable human life is. Our state simply ignored the problem and turned the country into a survival experiment.
In 2010, there was a feeling of total destruction of hopes, and then, the war broke out in Ukraine — that completely defeated Belarus. A taboo on changes emerged here. Such a suffocating atmosphere. Once you begin to speak out about the future, progress, development — you become an infantile dreamer in another's eyes. Everyone here is trying to do something, to work, and you — you are just talking some nonsense.

Talking about deputies, parliament, influencing the agenda — no way, it is a completely different world, where it is simply impossible to get into. Now it is amazing to observe how quickly it all is falling apart, how incompetent are the people working in that authoritarian system.

In 2018, I moved to Warsaw, because it seemed to be a way forward. Simultaneously, I was doing something in Belarus, as much as it was possible — online. Once, I was offered a job: an opportunity to implement an important initiative in Minsk. So I returned. I planned to move back, but to continue travelling a lot and periodically migrating to different countries. Eventually, the initiative didn't work out, the team fell apart. Anyway, it doesn't matter anymore. Everything has changed and now, for the first time in my entire life, I do not want to leave Belarus.

Several things that seemed to be rocks, which you could not move — now those things simply do not exist. Hope and inspiration arose. I saw that there are many of us. We have been living in this new Belarus, in fact, for a long time.

You are walking the streets and don't meet friends. Previously, it seemed as if you personally knew everyone who could go to rallies. There are completely different people there; they support each other, like a big family. I don't know what will happen after, all this daily violence: threats and fear. It's very unpleasant to live now. On the other hand, there is hope for a normal future that never existed.

My involvement in the elections 2020 began in May, during the election campaigns. I saw Tsepkalo's Facebook post, then Babariko announced that he was running for election. Popular media started to take interviews with them, to conduct long conversations, discussions, independent revision of old dialogues and interviews — we were getting deeply acquainted with these people. I remember the day, when at the end of the interview Babariko said: "That's it, thank you, I love you all very much!" What was that? How to react to it? Not a single one of our politicians has ever used such language before. Something completely new is happening. This was the first important point. Then Tikhanovsky was imprisoned, Soutine's "Eve" was stolen [in June, when the collection of paintings of Belgazprombank was arrested] — and this whole thing began.
You watch the news every day and you can't believe in what's going on. Not a single series on Netflix can match the intensity of the plot of what is happening now in Belarus.
I saw kilometer-long queues for collecting signatures for new candidates, queues for complaining to the CEC. It was hard to believe that it was real. Some of my friends called for a boycott. We've been over this strategy — it does not work. The CEC is only glad that you do not come voting: less work for them. It was the period when there were still people doubting whether it was worth voting for Tikhanovskaya, then — a historic unification of the three opposition headquarters happened.

It was the period when I talked a lot with my relatives: I was explaining why it is important to sign, why it is important to vote. How to use the "Voice" platform [platform for alternative vote count]. The main task was to break the apolitical barrier that has been built over 26 years, the myth that you are not able to change anything.

Then, I worked as an independent election observer. I arrived at the place of registration, in my hometown. I collected all signatures that were necessary. The commission refused me four times: they said that the signatures were fake or the handwriting was illegible. Finally, I was registered, but they behaved disgustingly.

We were not allowed to sit in the building, because of "the pandemic". The commission, by the way, was without masks. It was also prohibited to stand on the porch under the canopy — though it was raining — because "you can create obstacles for voters", and again — "coronavirus" — sit outside. "There are no chairs at school", they said. You can't go to the toilet: coronavirus. This "coronavirus" appeared in the rhetoric of the Lukashi bastards wherever it was convenient. They put a person who controlled us; he walked from side to side, at some point he even put a white ribbon on his hand [the symbol of the opposition to the existig authority], it all looked very stupid. We brought our chairs with us, we asked to use a toilet in a shop nearby the school, and continued to count the voter turnout, which every day differed from the results in the commission's protocols.
You understand that you cannot do anything else. Involvement in the political process is more important than any of your other activities. We are engaged only in elections now: the next five years in Belarus depend on it.
On election night and the first three days after, I was present at the hottest spots in Minsk. The Internet was turned off in our country, and we could not estimate the risks. Perhaps, if I saw the real picture, I would not be able to leave the house because of fear. We were afraid to go to the protests, but we were much more afraid for the future.

I live in the center — "cosmonauts" [riot police in full equipment] were running around in my yard. Protesters were hiding in my flat. The entrance was open, and there were always bandages and water on the mailboxes. When it became very scary to go out on the street, I started volunteering at the detainee support service. I knew the stories of the victims' relatives and it was impossible to believe in the horror that was happening. Streets became empty in the evening and the avenue was blocked. I watched from the window at a completely empty tram, the blocked avenue, and the way paddy-wagons and cars with barbed wire were leaving the city.

It is difficult to describe everything that happened — mostly you feel sick, simply because you get tired of the amount of information, from the infinite humiliation of some kind.

There was an episode when they tried to detain me. Women recaptured me. That was the final straw. I have been recovering from it for a long time... maybe I am still in the process. For the first four days, I almost could not speak. I didn't think it would be so scary. I've watched, imagined, and read other people's stories for so many months. I packed a bag for jail and, it seemed, I was mentally ready. But no. When they take you, the ground beneath you shifts. Perhaps, they will beat you — no doubt, they will humiliate you. It got cold outside — you will sleep without a mattress. Actually, it's good if you lie — now it is forbidden even to sit. I do not want this, I can't bear it.

I admire people who go to paddy wagons calmly — they are just superhuman! I cried when they grabbed me. It was so scary that everything shrank inside me. That man in green uniform was holding me by my hand and by the collar of my coat. There was so much anger, negativity, so much filth in him that it is impossible to describe. You don't understand if you can resist or if he will start beating you with the baton he is holding in his hand. Will you survive or not? This was just after the murder of Roma Bondarenko. It was the same march.

In the early days, when I was asked about the situation, I immediately broke into tears. Then I went to a crisis psychotherapist. I started to control my body, actions, and somehow I got out of it. It's impossible to fully describe how much you feel yourself vulnerable living in Belarus and participating in all these events. I was no longer going out on Sunday marches.
When I stopped going to marches, there was a certain fear that if we do not declare ourselves publicly and stop watching the street movement, everything will slowly fade away. I am afraid that people will stop conquering urban space.
We are very much suppressed. Many have already left Belarus, they could not hold, and I am afraid that I might give up soon. There is no place in Minsk where I can feel safe. Even at home: the cops took many activists from their apartments, with their equipment and money. There is a law default, robbery, and genocide in the country.

Nonetheless, there are still people who keep on demonstrating — it is an important factor, it supports me morally. After the death of Roma Bondarenko, it all became terribly scary. When some bullies kill a man in his yard — such savagery. After that, you think: should you continue going outside on the weekend?

Going out, flags in the windows, murals and ribbons in the courtyards — all these are the symbols, which help us to withstand this difficult period of repression in Belarus. The authorities also understand this, so they shoot at windows, beat and humiliate people. They think if they hide everything, then people will lose hope. But the victory has already come — victory is in our heads, in the feeling that we will never tolerate this regime again, that we are the majority.

Made on