News

2020.08.16 10:00

Surviving captivity in Minsk. Belarusian detainee recalls abuse and endless beatings

Denis Vėjas, Benas Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt2020.08.16 10:00

Even when already lying face down on the curb, Pavel Daroshka had no idea the night would only get worse. On August 11, he was one of thousands detained during protests sweeping Belarus.

“You have to help those who are still there, because it’s a concentration camp in the territory of Minsk,” he recounts in an exclusive interview with LRT.lt.

LRT was able to confirm the identity of Pavel Daroshka from its sources in Minsk. Some, but not all, details of his story have been confirmed, and LRT has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the events described below.

The 32-year-old electrical engineer said he had been driving a car after having a late meal with three friends. His car was pulled over by an officer carrying a rifle close to the Riga shopping mall, which saw one of the most violent confrontations of the evening.

"Even when they were putting us on the ground, even when they were screaming at us and insulting us by our car, I did not think that it would turn out to be this bad."

"When they lifted us from the floor and started dragging us towards the detention van with our hands tied behind our backs and heads lowered, I started to realise that this will be far worse."

"When I entered the detention van, [I saw] there were OMON inside. I realised where I had ended up.”

“People who were inside the detention van were simply part of a porridge of arms, legs, heads, and bodies woven together.”

“They were simply floored, some with arms twisted, some with hands free. This was all in some five layers of people. Someone was lying on top, someone was at the bottom. All those lying ot the bottom were starved of air. Someone was having epileptic seizures."

"When your hands are behind your back, tied, and you are lying atop other people, and all this is in a jumble of arms, legs and heads, it is very difficult to stand up.”

Read more: Inside Minsk. Swarms of OMON use ambulances and extreme violence to supress dissent

Daroshka was transferred to a city bus that was turned into a detention van. The beatings continued.

“For us to stand up faster, they were constantly beating us with batons. When we were stepping off the detention van, we were beaten again in a corridor made of OMON [officers].”

“When we were entering the second detention van, we were beaten again.”

Then, he ended up in a third truck where 11 people were crammed into a compartment not much larger than one square meter. Those with hands untied helped him to make a phone call to his girlfriend.

“We were loaded like animal carcasses in a slaughterhouse. Again, this was all followed by baton hits. If any of us asked for water, air, or were trying to say, 'what for?', or were asking not to be beaten anymore – they would beat them even more."

“They brought us to the detention centre. When we left the truck, OMON officers formed another corridor outside. It was very long, around 30 metres. It felt like the hits were endless.”

"They were relentless. At the moment when I shouted, 'do not smash my head', two hits landed on my head. It was for those hits that I actually ended up in the Minsk City Emergency Hospital because I was diagnosed with a skull and brain injury."

"From the last detention van, we were placed alongside a fence, brought to our knees. Some were kneeling, some were squatting, and all this continued for some two hours."

"I started feeling dizzy, perhaps because those hits on my head brought me back from the state of shock. I did not even feel right away that they were beating me on the head. They [put me] on the ground, I was holding my hands on my head. This was how I lay for about an hour."

“Those who felt bad were allowed to lie down like myself. There were around five people – who couldn’t hold on, or those, who had epilepsy attacks. They received no help, no one tried to resuscitate them, and [officers] would still beat them with batons if they requested help. I received a few blows during the time I laid next to the fence.”

“We had to get up with our hands up, but as I stood up, I understood that I can’t hold on any longer. My head was spinning really bad. I said to those standing next to me, ‘that’s it guys, I’m drifting off’. They alerted our attendees, because I could not speak up anymore.”

"[Then], they dragged me out of this line and threw me on the ground. And this was how I lay until about six in the morning, from what I understand."

During this time, a prison nurse checked him, according to Daroshka, but offered no help. Only when she realised he could no longer speak or answer, she decided to call an ambulance.

“There were some five people with such traumas. Someone was puking, someone laid on the ground unconscious.”

"When we were lying on the grass and waiting for the ambulance, we saw how many people they were bringing in. Each time we saw them being offloaded under a barrage of baton hits, each time we heard people screaming and wailing, asking, begging not to be beaten. People were screaming, 'what for?', 'why?’”

“I didn’t see aymore what happened to the people when they were sent to the cells. But I heard the moment [when they reached the cells] very clearly, because a final ‘surprise’ awaited them.”

“I didn’t see it, and thanks God, but the people [who did] screamed louder than in the police trucks.”

“Who commands these people? I don’t know. [...] Now they’re torturing people. Why? Who ordered them to do so?”

“I understand that there is a thing like an order. But you can follow it with passion, or simply methodically, because you have to.”

“The ambulance finally arrived, and I’m really thankful for the medics who arrived. Thank you, her name was Yulia, she behaved with us very humanely.”

Read more: As shots and explosions shake Minsk, people call for help from Lithuania

“In the ambulance, [the medics] said a phrase which really stuck with me: ‘we will take as many people as needed’.”

“Then, she asked for the prison worker to visit other cells and find people who are in a really bad shape.”

Another detainee came back with her.

“But I’m sure, according to all moral and medical norms, everyone who was detained needed medical help after receiving such beatings, and so many of them. I simply didn’t know that such brutality exists.”

Speaking from his hospital bed, Daroshka said that he has already signed a contract with a lawyer and will file formal complaints against the authorities for stealing his car, excessive violence. and overstepping authority despite having little illusion about the slanted nature of the judicial system. He said he wanted to prove "that they are wrong and cannot act as they did".

"Today outside of [of the hospital] – [medical workers] were [showing] peace signs in a protest of solidarity with those that were injured.”

“I want you to understand why I’m speaking [with you]. Our informational space is really heated, my social media feeds are filled with [scenes] of what is happening around us.”

“I want that [social media] networks in other countries would also be filled [with the same images], and the people would support us. I want that the people to speak about [what is happening in Belarus].”

Additional editing by Vykintas Pugačiauskas at LRT TV.