Mikita Sviryd, a Belarusan deserter who, when the war started in Ukraine, fled illegally to Lithuania because he was afraid that the Belarusan army would go to Ukraine to help Russia.

Today Mikita is an illegal refugee, Lithuania has denied the young deserter political asylum.

In Belarus, desertion can be punishable by death penalty.

Today, he is desperate and expects nothing good in his future.

What is for geopolitics the fate of one guy who at the age of 19 decided to give up being a soldier?

But if we want to influence the sentiments of young Belarusians not to join the army and not to support Russia’s war in Ukraine, we just have to help Mikita to start a new peaceful life, without weapons, with the right not to kill and not to be punished for it by Lithuania and Belarus.

Mikita’s case description:

MIKITA SVIRYD, born on September 22, 2002, is a citizen of Belarus. On October 28, 2021, he received a summons for compulsory military service and had no opportunity to refuse service in the Belarusian army.

By February 24, 2022, his service period had reached four months, during which Mikita had already taken the oath.

Throughout the four months in the company where Mikita served, tactical tasks were rehearsed a couple of times, weapon firing exercises were conducted several times, frequent marches were undertaken, and deployments to various military units as assistants were common.

During this time, they attended numerous ideological lectures which promoted the view that the West was inhabited by “enemies and Nazis”, claimed that the white-red-white flag was “used by the occupiers during the years of the Second World War”, and advocated the execution of those who supported the opposition. Mikita, like the majority of his comrades, did not share this view. However, it was out of the question to engage in debate with the lecturers; most conscripts slept through such sessions.

During those four months, Mikita, like the other enlisted men, endured insults and humiliation at the hands of officers. On one occasion at the firing range, an officer, under the influence of alcohol, kicked Mikita in the back because he thought Mikita was looking at his phone. There was also an incident where a senior officer punched him in the shoulder. Hazing is rampant in the Belarusian army; officers are aware of it, verbally condemn it, but do nothing to stop it. Soldiers often torture each other, especially sergeants who have minimal authority. There are military patrols where there is no opportunity to sleep for more than 4 hours in 24 hours. There have been cases where sergeants have allowed soldiers to sleep for only 15 minutes in 24 hours.

In mid-February 2022, two weeks before the full-scale war, Mikita was sent to another military unit. There he saw Russians transporting trains of tanks, howitzers, military trucks arriving from Russia, and armored infantry vehicles, unloading real ammunition. The conscripts were told that it was all for training exercises, but Mikita found the movement of such a large amount of equipment strange for just a two-week training session.

On February 24, 2022, Mikita found himself at the firing range near the Ukrainian border. He learned about the commencement of the war from an officer. An officer told him that the war had begun. The conscripts’ task was to guard the Russians at the firing range from which military aircraft took off for Ukraine. Mikita watched the pilots maneuvering the planes and the equipment leaving for the south. But he couldn’t record anything on camera or video: phones were forbidden, and if caught, the soldiers were sent to the brig with their phones confiscated.

On February 24, 2022, Mikita and his fellow soldiers watched videos showing attacks on Ukrainian units and military facilities. They believed that Belarus was going to join the war, which caused unrest among the conscripts, especially when the order for “heightened readiness” was announced (such an order is given in the event of war). The commander issued weapons to everyone, and some received live ammunition. The number of personnel in the unit increased by about 500, and Mikita feared that he would be forced to go to war in Ukraine on Putin’s side – a prospect he strongly opposed. As a result, he began to consider deserting from the army, as disobeying orders could result in 8 to 15 years’ imprisonment. In essence, a soldier was faced with the choice of either killing or facing imprisonment, which led to thoughts of desertion.

In May 2022, Mikita was on exercises near the border with Lithuania and decided to seize the opportunity to escape to the European Union. He began preparing for the escape a week in advance, studying the terrain on maps, determining the route to take, and planning the time of day to run. Mikita hoped that within the EU territory, he could seek asylum, viewing it as a mission that needed to be fulfilled as he could no longer endure the situation morally.

In the early morning of May 26, 2022, while everyone was still asleep, Mikita made his escape. He took off his uniform, left his weapon with live ammunition on the road and abandoned his mobile phone. A long-haul truck driver, who didn’t ask any questions, gave Mikita a ride to the border with Lithuania. The border had to be crossed illegally, through several fences. The first was a steel fence with wire and blades, where Mikita was caught on camera, realizing that time was running out. As he climbed over the fence, he suffered a minor injury and fell to the ground. The next fence was over a ditch and Mikita managed to crawl under it. The next fence had rotten posts and Mikita broke through. He then realized he was already on EU territory and went to surrender to the border guards of Lithuania.

Border guards were very surprised and skeptical about Mikita’s claim that he had escaped from the Belarusian army. Special services were called in and he was interrogated extensively. He gave a truthful account of the border crossing, confirmed Belarus’ indirect involvement in the war, and provided information about the deployment and movement of Russian military equipment. Later, the immigration authorities arrived. Mikita couldn’t believe that he had succeeded, that he was safe. Overwhelming emotions hit him as he realised he wouldn’t be home for a long time and wouldn’t see his family for a long time. Mikita was then taken to a refugee camp in Lithuania, where he experienced complete freedom compared to the Belarusian army.

After Mikita’s escape, military, police, and the KGB visited his home in Belarus. They told Mikita’s parents that he wouldn’t be punished if he returned and could complete his service peacefully. Under their pressure, his relatives called Mikita and urged him to return to Belarus. But he understood that if he returned, he would be arrested. Mikita faces up to 20 years in prison in Belarus, and possibly even the death penalty. As well as desertion, he could be charged with terrorism, extremism, and treason. Mikita fled a mission with weapons (which he left in Belarus), informed the Lithuanian authorities about the movement of Russian military equipment, and provided details of events on the border with Ukraine during the days of the Russian invasion.

In November 20, 2023, the Migration Department of the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Lithuania denied Mikita asylum on the territory of Lithuania.

The official reason for refusing political asylum in Lithuania is that Mikita is in no danger in Belarus, Belarus is a safe country for his return.

Mikita appealed the Migration Department’s decision to a Lithuanian court. The hearing took place on March 6, 2024. The court decided to reject Mikita’s appeal and upheld the Migration Department’s decision from November 20, 2023.

Mikita then appealed the Lithuanian court’s decision to the Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic of Lithuania.

On June 6, 2024, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal and upheld the denial of asylum for Mikita. Mikita and his lawyer were not invited to the hearing, and the case was reviewed in writing. Mikita had no opportunity to explain anything to the court.

The official reason for the refusal of asylum is the same: the Department of Migration believes that it is safe for Mikita to return to Belarus and that he is not in any danger there.

This is not true. Mikita is threatened with imprisonment and even death penalty in Belarus.

At the moment Mikita is in the territory of the European Union illegally and has to hide from forced deportation to Belarus. Mikita is in deep depression and is prone to suicide because he is afraid of torture and death in a Belarusian prison, as well as afraid of being in the war against Ukraine.