The life of an ordinary Pinsk family, Movshuk, was turned upside down on 10 August 2020. Elena, 44, and her husband Sergei decided to go to town. On the same night they were detained – since then Elena has been behind bars. Her youngest children, 11-year-old Angelina and 5-year-old Karina, ended up in an orphanage. Hearing the verdict in court – six years in prison – Elena wrote in her notebook: “I will hang myself.”

Two days after the elections, on 9 and 10 August 2020, there were clashes between security forces and protesters in Pinsk. On the first night after the so-called victory of Alexander Lukashenko, local residents blocked the building of the Pinsk District Executive Committee and began to demand an honest vote count. The security forces came out to confront them. The protesters tried to negotiate with them and persuaded them to put down their shields, but the riot police surrounded them. Then people began to defend themselves: stones, sticks, boards from benches, paving slabs were used. Elena Movshuk was among the peaceful residents of Pinsk.

Elena worked as an assistant cook in the Pinsk hospital, taking care of her family. She has five children: Olga, Denis, Julia, Angelina and Karina. Olga, Denis and Yulia are now adults, Angelina is 11. Karina, 5, is the daughter of Sergei Movshuk, whom Elena married six years ago. It was Sergey who followed the situation in the country in their family: he read the news, loved to speculate on political topics. He initiated the tragic trip to town, during which the couple were detained.

In the evening of August 9, Sergey and Elena went to the center of Pinsk, to Lenin Square. Sergei later recalled: a lot of people gathered there, who started shouting “Shame!”, “Go away”. Then the security forces began to march on the crowd – peaceful Belarusians retreated to a small street. Elena and Sergey also ran there. But they could not escape: their path was blocked by garages with a barbed-wire fence. Elena could not climb the fence, and Sergei remained on the ground with his wife. Both were detained, but Sergei was released after 17 hours and Elena was not.

On leaving the police station, the man tried to get information about his wife. However, the situation did not become clearer until 14 August 2020, four days after Elena was in the hands of the security forces. And that was thanks to a woman who shared a cell with a mother with many children. The Pinsk woman recounted: Elena was brought to them naked, barefoot and beaten. After the isolation ward in Pinsk, Elena was transferred to the pre-trial detention center in Baranovichi.

“I’ve been put on some kind of register that I’m prone to taking over the administration and showing aggression… Horror! I cry every day. This is some kind of nonsense. I can’t go on, I can’t even talk about it… I am in jail and the investigator is not calling me anywhere, and there is no case, and I don’t know what’s going on,” she wrote to her husband.

While in pre-trial detention, Elena felt all the pleasures of the Belarusian penitentiary system. She lost weight in her cell, became ill and complained in her letters that her legs were getting weak. The political prisoner confessed that it was impossible to eat food, she poured portions into the toilet.

In the framework of the criminal case under part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots), which is called “Pinsk case”, in addition to Elena and Sergei, 12 more Pinsk residents were detained. All of them were allegedly identified on the video, which became the main evidence of the prosecution. It is impossible to view it on the Internet – it has been deleted. Victims in the case are 109 police officers who were harmed by the protesters. 72 police officers demanded a total of 380 thousand rubles compensation for “mental suffering”, namely loss of sleep, appetite, fear, humiliation, pain and shame due to the events experienced.

The trial of the defendants in the Pinsk case began on March 23, 2021. Elena Movshuk was accused of swinging a stick at riot policemen and hitting shields on August 9, 2020, which got into the frame of that very video. Elena does not deny: yes, she struck several times, but only after she herself was hit with a truncheon. In her letters, the woman emphasized that she wanted justice and was ready to answer for the fact that she was on the square and rebuffed the security forces. But she is not ready to take responsibility for other people, collusion with whom she was attributed, because Elena simply did not know them.

The verdict in the case was delivered on April 30, 2021. Judge Yevgeny Bregan sentenced Elena to 6 years in prison for allegedly participating in the riots. Even remorse and requests for leniency did not save her, as she has minor children. Her husband Sergei received 6.5 years in a maximum security colony. After the announcement of the term, Elena wrote in a notebook “I will hang myself” and showed it to the audience.

19-year-old daughter Julia worries about her mother and, as best she can, is trying to restore justice. The girl already has her own daughter – Elena’s granddaughter. The political prisoner was very much looking forward to the birth of her granddaughter, talked to her even when she was not born. Because of her imprisonment, Elena never got to see little Sofia. Nor will she see her second grandchild, who is still preparing to be born. So far, all that a political prisoner can do for her ruined family is to send paper “grandmothers” hearts from behind bars.

The younger children of Elena Movshuk have not seen their mother since the moment of her arrest. On September 17, 2020, the guardianship authorities came for the schoolgirl Angelina and took her to the orphanage. At that time, Sergei Movshuk was still at large, but Angelina could not be left with him, based on the fact that he was not her own father. Then the girl was taken to her by the godmother. Angelina constantly says that she misses her mother, and believes that her mother did nothing criminal.

Five-year-old Karina misses her mum too. The girl was taken away from the day care centre in April 2021, the day the prosecutor requested terms for the defendants in the “Pinsk case”. They found a guardian family for the baby among the acquaintances of Elena and Sergei, now documents are being prepared for custody of the girl. She still does not understand what prison is and why her mother does not come for so long.

The most important issue for the family is the need to pay compensation to the “injured” policemen. Ordinary people do not have that kind of money, they also have nowhere to take it. There are no hopes that the sentence will be mitigated, but, according to her daughter Yulia, Elena is going to write a petition for pardon.

ICCI “Our House” expresses solidarity with all brave residents of Pinsk who were not afraid to protest the riot policemen on the first night after the elections. People who fought for their votes and were cruelly deceived by the state do not deserve the huge sentences to which they were sentenced in court. And even more so, their children do not deserve suffering, forced to wait for their fathers and mothers from prison, live in orphanages and foster families. The real culprits of the incident are the servants of the Lukashenko regime, and we believe that after the victory of the Belarusian people, they will be held accountable for all the crimes they have committed according to the law.