Latvia provides assistance to those who have suffered from the repression in Belarus, which President Alexander Lukashenko's authoritarian regime directs against his opponents. With the support of voluntary organisations, the first six victims have been brought across the border to Latvia. They have been severely injured and in Latvia they are provided with the medical treatment and support needed.
Viktor and Ivan were ordinary Belarusian citizens. This trip to Europe is their first - never did they expect it to be like this, fleeing and hiding from their own country.
“I want to get home every night so I can take part in what's happening there. And I understand my powerlessness that I can't do anything when I'm here. But if I come back, I'll be arrested. Well, I'm trapped,” says Viktor, Belarusian citizen who was hit by the crackdown.
Viktor said he had never been interested in politics until now and had never gone to elections. Worked plain work. His scars tell a story how much things have changed. Just now during surgery, another splinter from light and noise grenades was found in his body. On the post-election day, as demonstrators began to challenge Lukashenko's victory, Viktor simply walked past some street crossings.
“There were people everywhere – both young and old and children, all clapped, yelled Long live Belarus! – just peacefully expressed their protest. As I passed, I noticed that a column with a force structure was moving toward them. People began to group together, form a live chain so that no one could be held. There were two cars with road police patrols. People clapped, laughed, took pictures. And I joined the rest of the nation in the chain, as if to support my own. And then, without any warning, the militants from about 20 meters away began to throw light and noise grenades on people,” said Viktor.
“In the ER, they cleaned my wounds and told me I had to stay in the hospital because the condition was terrible. The next morning a coroner arrived. Asked me how I had been injured. I told him. A day later, he came again. And I was already interviewed as an eyewitness of mass uprising. I said there was no mass uprising, that people did nothing but clap their hands and called Long live Belarus. Then he came a second time the evening of the same day. And he said, now you can call the last time on your phone, I'll take that,” Viktor said.
The phone was taken away. And only then did Viktor realize what could happen to him. Shortly after he left the hospital, he decided to run to Latvia. He admits that if he hadn't left Belarus he would sit in prison. “It's absolutely clear. Or I would have gone missing. Because I didn't keep quiet, I told others on the Internet about what was going on and mocked power – Lukashenko and OMON. If I came back, I'm more than convinced that something would happen to me. Want to be home, want to come back and help build a new country. Everyone wants it. But when will it be? There is a very long and difficult road ahead,” said Viktor.
Ivan has a similar story from another Belarusian city. He had not been an active member of the demonstrations, but has now become a convinced opponent of Lukashenko's power. “I was standing on the street looking at the phone. A car with Russian plates pulled up. And I was arrested. No hello, nothing. Pinned me to the ground, made me lie there. Asked where the phone was, I said - here. They switched it off. Shoved me into the car and went on to beat me. I asked, what have I done? The answer was that I wanted to know too much.
I was in shock, I didn't even know what was going on. Never thought anything like this was possible. Then I realized it was the face of the country,” said Ivan.
In the militia's insulator, Ivan was battered so that there was a severe concussion, a broken cheekbone, a broken leg, a ruptured eardrum. Released three days later, only then could he get first aid.
“Doctors didn't really want to take me, they had also received threats. But there are private medical centers and they helped, for which I thank them dearly. Because they fulfilled their duty,” said Ivan. As the administrative penalty for participating in the meeting has threatened to grow to a criminal offense. Ivan realized that he should be fleeing, and thanked the volunteers that he is now in Latvia.