Activists, independent journalists, human rights defenders appeared in our country much earlier than the 2020 elections. But it so happened that most of the Belarusians did not hear about them or heard little about them. Meanwhile, women passed through torture in pre-trial detention centres and temporary custody centres, got huge sums, were interrogated, were threatened with a mental hospital and even more terrible things. “Our House” has constantly supported Belarusian opposition women who have suffered because of this. Here we will tell you how we helped activists who suffered from the actions of the state.
Many years ago, active women were fined on far-fetched pretexts to avenge their activities. In 2011, the Minsk Regional Court considered the complaint of activist Zinaida Timoshek against the decision of the Slutsk district court. Zinaida Vyacheslavovna was fined for actions that she did not commit. She got accused of installing named shovels for deputies at the city cemetery on October 1, 2011. But Zinaida Timoshek did not install any shovels. The shovels served only as an excuse to take revenge on an active pensioner. The reason for the fine was her civic position. “Our House” followed the course of the trial of Zinaida Timoshek.
In July 2012, Yanina Lesnevskaya, an activist of “Our House”, was detained in Vitebsk. She got accused of distributing works promoting the cult of violence and cruelty. So the police called the children’s fairy tales “My dad is a policeman. What does he do at work?” The police came with a search to Yanina’s house. She was taken to the police station. Human rights defender Valery Shchukin was not allowed to enter the office with law enforcement officers. Olga Karach supported Yanina Lesnevskaya: “I don’t understand why Yana is in detention — even though she didn’t have any colouring books with her and, by the way, Yana never distributed colouring books or any other materials. I understand that the police do not like that we constantly remind them of their terrible attitude towards women human rights defenders, politicians and journalists. Yana’s detention proves once again that there are substantial problems with police violence against women in Belarus, and this problem requires significant attention, both inside the country and abroad.”
In 2013, Natalia Leonova, an activist of “Our House”, was detained in Minsk. Employees of the Frunze district police department arrested her while distributing the newspaper “Our House”. After her detention, she spent about two hours in the police, where they tried to intimidate her, threatened her with the KGB pre-trial detention centre, prison and lice. However, Natalia was released even without drawing up a protocol. We told about the repressions against Natalia on our website.
It is not uncommon for a woman to pay for her active activity with long imprisonment, a psychiatric hospital, separation from her relatives. In 2016, Olesya Sadovskaya, an activist of “Our House” from Molodechno, appeared in the investigative prison No. 8 in Zhodino. She became the victim of the lawlessness of the policemen of her city. She spent several months in a stuffy cell on hard shelves for sleeping, without habitual food and bath. And most importantly, she did not see her little daughter Katya. She had to visit the Republic Scientific and Practical Centre of Mental Health for a psychiatric examination – although there were no grounds for this. We supported Olesya in court, helped her with information, kept in touch with her during her imprisonment, held solidarity actions with her. Such an act was held on April 6, 2016. We collected funds, books and things for Olesya, which we subsequently transferred to the prison.
Since 2017, the ICCI “Our House” has been helping an activist from Slavgorod, Angelika Kalatozishvili. The woman received a disability due to a medical error. Suspecting cancer, doctors removed her healthy organs, then her legs failed, and then due to improper treatment, her bones collapsed, and she moved to a wheelchair. Neither the Investigative Committee nor the Ministry of Health did anything about the doctors who made a mistake. When Angelika made her story public, she began to be persecuted. Medical workers filed a statement against her for disclosing medical secrets. In July 2018, her husband, a citizen of Georgia, was detained under Article 328 of the Criminal Code – and he was the only person who could help her in everyday life. In 2019, he was exiled to his homeland. ICCI “Our House” attracted the attention of European politicians to the problem. Julie Ward, a member of the European Parliament from the UK Labour Party, has prepared an appeal to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini about the situation with Angelika. Also, the activists of” Our House” attended the hostel where she lived – just a couple of months after the activists’ visitation repairs began in the dormitory.
On September 1, 2017, activist Natalia Goryachko-Basalyga was detained in Borisov. She brought a program for her son, who is serving in the army. The Russian soldiers, who participated in the Zapad-2017 exercises, detained her without explanation. The woman started taking pictures of them. When the Belarusian military came to help, they did not stand up for the compatriot. The woman was taken to the Borisov district police department without explanation. On September 4, 2017, Natalia was tried for “minor hooliganism”. The ICCI “Our House” activists suggested that the current situation arose because of Natalia’s fame as a civil activist. Despite it, she was an independent observer of the presidential elections in 2015.
In Belarus, women with many children who have orders and awards should a priori support the authorities. And if this does not happen, the ladies are waiting for repression — even despite minor children and honorary status. In 2017, Galina Lazareva, a mother of many children from Bobruisk, fell under the ice rink of repression. On October 7, the World Day of Action for Decent Work, she took part in a picket. After it, she got detained under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the procedure for holding mass events). The police came to the children’s hospital, where she was with a young child. During the administrative process, Galina’s sick child was with her.
The status of deputy also does not protect against repression. A deputy in our country should only nod in response to all the proposals of the authorities. And if he tries to make life easier for his constituents, he risks being in captivity or even in the wet ground. In the winter of 2018, we supported the deputy from the Kalinkovichi district, Rosa Strelchenko. The woman fought against the school in the Kaplichi village closure, prepared a project for its restoration. However, the plans were not destined to come true – for her activities, Rosa began to receive threats, and later – intimidation by a mental hospital. The activist has the third group of disabilities due to dysplastic coxarthrosis of the hip joint. After the operation, she moved with a stick. The same story happened with a candidate for deputy from Novogrudok, Tatyana Voitovich, who was forcibly taken to a mental hospital by police officers. “Our House” supported an active woman at court sessions.
In 2018, we visited the trial of activists from Bobruisk, Galina Smirnova and Taisiya Kabanchuk. The women got detained on the eve of the celebration of the Belarusian people’s Republic centenary. According to the “law enforcement officers”, they crossed the road in the wrong place and “did not obey the legal requirements of officials.” The traffic police composed protocols on them, both women received penalties in the form of fines. Galina Smirnova was detained near the entrance late in the evening on March 23, 2018 – she spent at least three days in a temporary detention centre. Taisiya Kabanchuk, according to the police, resisted during the arrest. But at the trial, she said that she was threatened with physical force and grabbed by the hands. Galina Smirnova got a fine of 49 rubles, Taisiya Kabanchuk was fined 73,5 rubles.
In 2018, we supported the civil activist Galina Logatskaya, who spent three weeks in the psychiatric department of the Republic Scientific and Practical Centre of Mental Health. Galina was repeatedly subjected to administrative arrests for participating in protest actions. In the winter of the same year, bailiffs came to her to describe the property. Trying to reason with them, Galina said that she would throw herself out of the window if the lawlessness did not stop. The activist was not even hindered, but she had no thoughts of acting suicide. But a note with a promise to commit suicide fell into the hands of emergency doctors who came to Galina to change the pressure. The doctors called a psychiatric team, who tied up the woman and took her to a psychiatric hospital. Here she found herself in an observation ward for 16 people, and doctors gave her injections forcibly. She was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder.
We combined the persecution of women in Belarus in monitoring, which we shared with international organizations and politicians from other countries. In the summer of 2018, a monitoring report on repression against women appeared on our website. We wrote about the detention of human rights defenders Anna Sakhankova, Tatyana Samnikova-Mastykina, Anisia Kozlyuk, Elena Bogdan, monitoring the holding of a peaceful rally within the framework of the #ControlBY civil initiative. During the preparation, we collaborated with Marina Adamovich, an activist and the wife of politician Mikalai Statkevich. She reported on the repressions against Nina Baginskaya, Elena Tolstaya, Nina Filippova and Tamara Zaitseva. We also mentioned the detention of journalist Ekaterina Andreeva for covering events related to the restaurant “Let’s Go eat” near the Kurapaty tract.
In 2019, “Our House” monitored the harassment of women. We have recorded data on at least 55 activists who faced repression. Among them were activists, journalists, deputies and human rights activists. We included in the monitoring the case of activist Gulik Makhnadze, who exposed fake beggars and got into jail for three days. We also told about Ekaterina Basargina, the campaign against the battery factory construction in Brest activist – she was called to the police as a witness and detained. We have described the course of repression against journalists Olga Chaichits, Irina Schastnaya and Marina Zolotova. We devoted another part of the monitoring to human rights defenders: Angelika Kalatozishvili, Irina Kravets, Marfa Rabkova.
In the same year, we visited several trials of activists. Anastasia Guseva, a representative of the anarchist movement, was tried for participating in a nonviolent protest during the 2019 election campaign. Activist of the” European Belarus”, director Olga Nikolaichyk was also in the dock for participating in a peaceful protest action during the election campaign-2019. Homel activist Natalia Yakimova won a court case on the refund of money for the paid state duty.
After the 2020 elections, we have strengthened our support for activists fighting against the Lukashenka regime. On October 6, 2020, Olga Karach spoke at the international conference “Women in the vanguard of Change through Political Participation and Peaceful Protests in Europe and Central Asia” with UN representatives and public activists from around the world participation. Olga spoke about the situation with women’s rights in Belarus and about the repression against activists. “Women in Belarus today have become the face of a peaceful struggle against lawlessness and violence of the authorities over people only because it is impossible, and they cannot do otherwise. And today, it is important to meet, reflect and share experiences. It is important to ask questions, analyze the current situation to take the right steps in solving a particular problem in the future,” Olga Karach said.
In March 2021, an interview with Kristina Kashitskaya appeared on our website – the woman had to leave Belarus, fearing reprisals. During the elections, Kristina was an independent observer, and after that, she began to receive threats from the director of the school where her two children studied. And on October 23, 2020, in the morning, she was taken away from home for a photo with Maria Kolesnikova. The security forces illegally broke into her apartment, tried to open the lock in the toilet, where she hid from the police. In the police department, Kristina faced humiliation, insults, threats to plant drugs. Kristina hastily left for Lithuania. Here, the public association “Dapamoga” and the ICCI “Our House” supported her.
Since February 2021, we have conducted interviews with six repressed Belarusian actresses from Grodno. They came to Lithuania under the program of the ICCI “Our House”. Valentina Kharitonova was detained at a protest rally in Grodno together with her husband, Sergei Kurylenko. Maria Meleshko wrote a statement about joining the national strike and was dismissed from the theatre. Natalia Leonova stopped the performance as a sign of solidarity with her detained colleagues. Natella Belugina was also dismissed after she did not support violence and falsifications. Actresses Anastasia Muchko and Veronika Minich were also fired. In Lithuania, they received protection and continued performing in the theatre.
On March 31, 2021, activist Elena Sergienko shared her story with us. On March 25, 2021, she hung a protest flag on her apartment. Soon the police arrived – they took Elena to the police department. There was a search in her house. She had a hypertensive crisis, and she needed medical help. We supported Elena before the court session with her.
On May 1, 2021, we published an interview with teacher Svetlana Yakubovich. On October 23, 2020, the police officer called her to a preventive conversation. She spent in the police office for three hours. Then such conversations became regular and lasted up to 12 hours without the opportunity to eat, drink and go to the toilet. Svetlana was blackmailed, psychologically pressured, threatened. For posting a photo with a white-red-white flag in Telegram, she got 15 days of arrest. After serving her sentence, she was dismissed from the preschool where she worked. In a difficult moment, “Our House” turned out to be next to Svetlana.
We continue to monitor the situation with the repression of women in our country. On our website, you can read material about how the rights of Belarusian women are violated in colony No. 4. We wrote about what women dared to go against the Lukashenka regime go through. We informed our readers about how and for what our ladies got punishment. Instead of working in their favourite field, engaging in creativity and sports, raising children, our women should protect their country from an illegitimate usurper. They are forced to sit in prisons, listen to unendurable sentences, work hard in correctional institutions, endure separation from their husbands and children. We hope that with the support of “Our House”, it will be a little easier for Belarusians to go through these trials. And, of course, we are trying for the benefit of our victory.