Photo from the recent protests in Belarus. Photo: tut.by
On the very first day of the protests, Belarusian policemen proved themselves to be brutal defenders of Lukashenka’s regime. Euromaidan Press has repeatedly written about various cases of abuse:
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- Further evidence of post-election torture, beatings, and humiliation uncovered in Belarus
- 50 women in a cell for four: Belarusian election observer tells of being jailed
- “State is a machine ready to crush anyone”: Ukrainian released from Belarus jail describes detention cruelties
- Chilling testimonies of police brutality, humiliation & “re-education” amid vicious crackdown on Belarusian protesters
- “It feels like we live in the Middle Ages.” Screams of tortured Belarusian protesters recorded near prison
- Belarusian police detain and beat teenagers, injure 5-year-old
Still, the protesters expressed hope that law enforcement forces would eventually choose the side of the law and Belarus citizens. Therefore, the policemen were even given flowers.
Some of the policemen did indeed refuse to implement the regime’s criminal orders and had to give up their uniforms. In reply to the wave of cruelty unleashed by the system, in telegram channels, they started to share their resignation statements and dump their uniforms in trash cans.
Meanwhile, Lukashenka presented awards to more than 300 policemen for their impeccable service.
Just 20 minutes after a policeman released his statement of opposition, his colleagues came for him
Ivan Kolos is one of the policemen from Homel who decided to express his opposition to the regime’s brutality. A senior lieutenant, he released his statement reminding the law enforcement forces of their oath they gave to people and saying that Lukashenko had violently seized power on 12 August, on the fourth day of the system trying to clamp down the protests.
Kolos has worked in the police since 2015. In his video, he stressed that he did not intend to resign. However, 20 minutes after its publication, his superiors came to him demanding he turn in his uniform, certificate, and pin. The same night, fearing possible detention Kolos and his wife fled to Russia, and after some time moved to Ukraine.
The policemen talked to the Ukrainian media Graty describing the work of the system from the inside.
Policeman were told that Berkut riot police at Maidan was too passive
According to Kolos, before the election the government was expecting protests, so they prepared the police for them. In Homel, they undertook training at a model of the central square created at the local military unit.
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) August 15, 2020
Also, Kolos said that he underwent retraining at a police training center in 2015. At that time there was already a lot of information about the Ukrainian Maidan, the actions of the protesters, and the Berkut riot police unit.
“We were taught to act harshly from the outset, and we were told that Berkut acted very passively, and because of this the protest overwhelmed them. In our country, immediately before the elections all hardware was driven to Minsk from the regional centers. The army and the special forces were put on standby.”
The number of people with white ribbons coming to vote gave understanding of the scale of support towards Tsikhanouskaya
As Kolos describes, he was not told whom to vote for directly. But there were hints. Despite the collection of signatures being forbidden in the administrative institutions, policemen in Kolos’s department were ordered to vote in support of Lukashenka.
“Afterwards, the Central Election Commission [CEC] announced that Lukashenka had obtained two million signatures.”
However, Kolos himself managed to avoid voting twice. On the first occasion he said that he had forgotten his passport; on the second occasion he did not come to work on his day off. At the same time he saw the huge level of support for Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya, the candidate from the opposition, and saw the contrast with Lukashenka’s lies: he had said about a hundred people on a picket had voted for her.
Kolos also saw many people with white ribbons symbolizing the desire to vote for Tsikhanouskaya on the election day.
“They went there, voted, and at the end of the election day, [at the polling station] where I was on duty, Tsikhanouskaya 100% won.”
However, the man did not follow the results which were eventually released on that polling station.
Behind the backs of his colleagues, Kolos managed to release some protesters
When the voting was ongoing, the police were ordered to intervene if a person had violated public order. Taking photos was allowed. However, if the head of the commission was against it, it was forbidden, and therefore the police could intervene.
“After the voting, we were not instructed at all. The election ended, we came to the District Department of the Internal Affairs. And that was it, Yermoshyna [Lidiya Ermoshyna, the representative of the Belarussian CEC] announced that Lukashenko had won with 80%, and the Internet was shut down. A person knows that all of his relatives, almost all of the inner circle voted for Tsikhanouskaya, but the information is totally different. Wherein, everything is shut down, except for the official state channel. And with these thoughts people were left alone, and went out correspondingly to express their opinion, wanted to achieve the truth, because it was obvious to everyone that this was a falsification, and on a scale that has never been done at all in history.”
After the election, Kolos and about 30 of his colleagues in civilian clothing were sent to a place where protesters were gathering. The ex-policeman describes that people on the road were shaming them, which made him feel bad. However, when the policemen got to the place on foot, they didn’t face aggression towards them.
“The protesters were shouting: ‘Police are with people’.”
The supervisors gave orders to split up and detain the protesters. At that very moment Kolos asked himself: “What for? They haven’t done anything wrong”. As the ex-policemen says, when the riot police officers gave him detained protesters, he would take them aside, release them and tell them to flee.
“At that moment it was the most I could do. I released five people, and put only one in the paddy wagon, because I was leading him together with a colleague.”
The next day, Kolos tried to find like-minded people among his colleagues, but found almost nobody.
“More of them answered: ‘They [protesters] have to be killed, it is not clear who they are, some unemployed. However, all the people whom we detained had a job.”
Kolos’s supervisors persuaded them that the protesters were paid.
Court decisions against protesters were based on falsified reports
All the detained were sent to the temporary detention center.
“Do you know how the court hearings were taking place? ‘Do you agree?’ – ‘Yes’ – ‘10 days [in detention]. ‘Don’t agree?’-’15!’.”
Kolos went on saying that first hearings were taking place online, via skype because everyone was detained in the temporary detention centers, and it was already overcrowded. On the second day, 70 more people were taken there.
“All the protesters who were detained were kneeled face down, and some were beaten. And at that moment a dispute arose with my comrades. I told them: ‘You behave like fascists. They are lying unarmed – why use any other violence against them?’ But in response again ‘Yes, these are all murderers, drug addicts, alcoholics, they must be killed, they destabilize the country.’”
Kolos assumes that all the decisions in court were made based on falsified reports.
On the third day, Kolos said bluntly that he was not going to detain anyone, but was forced to join a group detaining protestors. Afterward, he simply left.
On 12 August Kolos shot his video statement.
“I wanted to show by my own example that one shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘no’. I wanted to emphasize with my video that I am an active employee. That this is not so, that I took off my tunic, put the badge down, left and I am already recording it at home.”
After 20 minutes, Kolos’s colleagues came to his house.
As he recounted, all the police were following what was being published in NEXTA_live, the telegram channel covering the protests.
The police tried to enter Kolos’s apartment, persuading him that they just wanted to talk. But being a police officer himself, he knew that it would not have ended just with talking. He refused to open the door and when he was asked to provide his licence and badge, he threw them down to the police from his balcony.
Afterward, his supervisors went to the place where Kolos’s parents live while others stayed behind to wait for Kolos himself.
“Of course this video scared them! For three days they were talking at planning meetings about how bad I am, what a traitor I am, and generally a careless employee.”
Kolos realized that there was no time to wait as a case against him could have been opened at any moment. The same night, he managed to secretly leave the house, got into his car with his wife, and fled the country.
“It was planned that my wife would come back – she would just show me off. But the next day, my colleagues, who communicate with me normally, sent me a screenshot of the chat, where there were phrases that I had to be caught, my spouse should be caught. And we decided that she would come with me. Already being in Russia, we were told that it is better to go to Kyiv. I myself understood that Russia would expose us at any moment.”
Returning to Belarus now seems dangerous for Kolos, as he was told that the police, expecting that he and his wife might appear, still come to his house to check.
All the policemen go through ideological training learning how good Lukashenka is
Kolos also told Ukrainian media about the motivation of those who serve Lukashenka’s regime.
The ex-policeman said that riot police officers are the most ideological of all.
“They, just like us, undergo ideological training. The ideology of the state is constantly being forced upon them. That our president is the most correct, that he is such an economic manager – he will come to see all the cows. So you follow the president and you will be fine.”
Kolos adds that there is a stereotype of riot police officers just being stupid.
“Honestly, listening to how they speak, how they act, you start to think that this is so. I am ashamed to wear a uniform in Belarus, because there is such an organization as the OMON [riot police].”
Kolos also puts responsibility for police brutality at the door of Yuryi Karaev, the Minister of Internal Affairs, who shot a video statement before the elections giving the police permission to do anything they wanted and to go unpunished.
At the time the interview was taken, seven of Kolos’s colleagues resigned, about ten more said they were not going to follow the illegal orders if those ones will come. Kolos explained that if they should have to resign, there will be support for them. Such policemen can gain an IT profession for free. The foundation «By soul, by help, by change» provides help in different directions, including paying fines for the policemen who have debts for education.
“Because you need a lot of money for a person to graduate from the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – about USD 20-30,000, which must be paid back if you leave the institution before the end of the contract.”
Kolos says that all the future policemen are on the financial hook as they have free education, but have to work for it afterward. Kolos served in the police for about two years to repay it.
“I had a lot of moments when I even wanted to sue the system for illegal actions towards me: they did not give time off or overtime was not paid. There was no question of legality. And it all started literally from the first months of service. I realized that this system is wrong, in principle. I wanted to overcome everything from the beginning: I was constantly standing up, expressing my opinion, discontent – as a result, I was constantly punished for my opinion.”
Kolos recognizes that when the Euromaidan Revolution was ongoing in Kyiv, he was not yet politically mature. Only later did he realize what the fight was all about.
“We have very strong Russian propaganda in Belarus. The events in the Crimea, in the Donbas – all this is presented to us in such a way that Ukraine is wrong, that fascists and Bandera supporters came to power there [Stepan Bandera, the leader of Ukraine’s nationalists’ movement in the first half of the 20th century]. In our country, a ‘Bandera’ is akin to a fascist.”
Kolos says he doesn’t regret his decision. He wants to come back to Belarus, but sees that it can only happen if the system changes there. Now he is learning a new profession and wants to obtain political asylum.