One loaf of bread for 65 people

This article is part of the Let The World Hear Project, which is a collaboration between Stockholm Free World Forum’s webzine Säkerhetsrådet and a number of Belarusian volunteers. Together we have gathered stories from victims of the dictatorship regime in 2020. The world must know what happened.

Read more about the project here

This is the story of 23-year-old Nikolai who was arrested on the 10th of August in Minsk and taken to the infamous Akrestina Detention Center.

Protests in Minsk. Photo: Wikimedia

I was detained on the evening of 10 August 2020 at a pedestrian crossing near the Belarusian State University. They didn’t ask any questions, they just twisted my arms, took my phone and threw me into the avtozak (ed. note; wagon for transportation of prisoners) where I had to wait for 17 more people. After that, they brought us to the Akrestina Detention Center. Local officers were lined up in the corridor and beat everyone who got out of the avtozak with their feet and truncheons. While doing this, they kept saying that we should’ve stayed at home, calling us “fucking revolutionaries.” They also forced us to hand over all our personal belongings, belts and shoe laces.

After that, 65 people were locked inside a room. It was some sort of an inner yard for walks, about 4.5 x 4.5 m in size, without any roof or benches – it looked just like a stable for cattle. We took turns sitting on the concrete floor in order to let each other rest a bit. In the neighboring cells – there were 5 of them – there were other people locked up, in total about 400 people. 

We had to beg for water for quite a while, and when we finally received it, it was 2.5 liters for 65 people. We all took one a sip per person to make sure it was enough for everyone. I would be lying if I said that we were not fed as they gave us a loaf of black bread. One loaf. For 65 people. The toilet was also a luxury, and every visit there was accompanied by ridicule and shouting. Three people had to urinate simultaneously so that the group managed to meet the allocated time for the toilet visit. 

On the morning of 11 August, we were all let outdoors for identification. Again that corridor filled with soldiers with truncheons. One of us had to be taken away with an ambulance. 

On that day, we heard how people were brutally beaten in the corridors just for asking for some food or to contact a lawyer. They were begging to stop, but instead more beatings followed along with comments such as “you knew where you were going, you knew where you would end up. Here are the changes you’ve been asking for.” It was very scary to hear the groans of people and the kicks of boots on the human flesh.

By the end of the day of 11 August, people in my cell had started to faint from the lack of strength, water and food. On the morning of 12 August, we were all lined up in the corridor and they started to call out our names. Me and 25 other people were lucky enough to have our names called out. They said that we were going home. The others were told that they had to wait until the next day in order to see if they’ll get the same luck. After that, we received a portion of final mocking in the courtyard where they forced us to do tough military physical training exercises. Those who couldn’t manage to do everything were beaten with bats. After that, we had to crawl on the ground to the fence from where we were released. 

Our personal belongings and phones were never returned to us and it’s highly unclear whether it will ever be possible to get them back.

The story was originally recorded and translated by Anastacia S.