– Jeg vil ikke skjule arret

Kira var, som mange andre hviterussere, ikke interessert i politikk tidligere, men ble en del av demonstrasjonen etter presidentvalget i landet i august 2020. Det fikk konsekvenser.

Kira Karlovich er en 31 år gammel journalist fra Minsk i Hviterussland. Hun ble skadet av en gummikule fra politiet under det som skulle være en fredelig demonstrasjon på Pushkinskaya stasjon etter valget i Hviterussland 9. august 2020.

Norpublica har fått lov til å publisere noen av øyevitneskildringene som er samlet inn av et hviterussisk team av journalister og frivillige. I samarbeid med hviterussiske og internasjonale menneskerettsadvokater, og med tillatelse fra ofrene, har gruppen samlet og publisert bevis på tortur og umenneskelig behandling etter presidentvalget i Hviterussland i August 2020.
Se mer på August 2020

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Minsk november 2020

This is the first election of my life. Before this year, politics did not interest me. When I arrived, my name was not in the list of registered voters. The head of the election commission rushed to convince me that this was nothing to worry about, quickly jotted my information onto a paper napkin, promptly stuffed it into her pocket, and provided me with a blank voting card. At this moment, it became clear to me that voting here is simply a formality. On the way home, with my head lowered, I hummed a melody from the musical Chicago, where the character of a plumber describes himself as cellophane, an invisible object that cannot decide anything. Everyone around avoids him as though he is garbage. I think the feeling of being like cellophane arose for many who came to vote; the night of August 9th, Minsk was buzzing with discontent. Maybe if the country hadn’t cut off all internet connection, I could have kept up with the current events through YouTube. But sitting trapped by four walls was impossible, and I set off to the center of town to see what was happening for myself. 


Driving past the schools, used as voting facilities, was unsettling. 8 pm, dark, hundreds of people standing all around the buildings, silently awaiting the results of the election. The center was no better; record traffic, cacophonous honking, and from every other vehicle, the iconic song of Victor Tsoi, “Our Hearts Demand Change”. Thousands of pedestrians dressed in white. The word from the crowd was that SWAT surrounded the city center and blocked off certain quadrants to keep people from gathering at the perimeter of the Stella. The sparks of cannons were visible from its direction. 


In a rush, the SWAT team began to push the crowd toward the Prospect of Independence. The first thought was that they were about to circle and shoot us all. But it didn’t happen, this time. People attempted to speak to the officers, but no dialogue was received. The response was either a threat or silence. From the windows of surrounding buildings, tenants waved red and white flags and warned those below of in which direction people were being pushed into military buses. Every five minutes you could hear the wails of ambulance sirens and those of the trapped. 


August 10.

There was still no internet connection. By the evening, the signals of cars even arrived in my sleepy neighborhood. The neighbors outside fumed that everyone in the building voted, but only four of all their ballots were registered. 
Having access to no information, following my heart, I moved to the center of the city. Traffic stopped completely. A driver of a trolley bus opened the doors to allow passengers to exit. One old woman, outraged, complained into the crowd. “How am I supposed to get home now? Idiots, walking around here, making a fuss! Your life isn’t good enough? Half the young people here drive cars! You didn’t have to live through Stalin, live off mushrooms! You don’t know what it was like, spending half the day slaving at a factory, and spending the other half waiting in line for that blue ration chicken meat! For you, it’s all revolution!” 

At the crosswalk of Pretitskaya and Pushkin Prospect, right on the road, stood people carrying flags, yelling “Go away!”. Drivers cheered them on. I was planning on heading towards the center, but decided that Pushkinskaya would be my pit stop. 
I walked further in the direction of the Crown Supermarket. I saw a large group of people coming my way and turned around. When I heard screams of “cops coming”, everyone ran off into the courtyards around the crosswalk. Scared, I got to a driveway, but couldn’t see anything, and so decided to return- I just wanted to know what was going on. I believed it was only a temporary commotion. 
Across the street from me, next to the Hotel Orbita and Aurora Theatre, a mob of SWAT appeared. Everyone around hid behind houses, cautiously watching. It so happened that I was closer to them, in one of the front lines. The SWAT team stood a meter from me, doing nothing. I wasn’t scared-there was no aggression from our side. 

Today, the internet is flooded with horrifying chronicles of what happened that night. But being in the epicenter, my perception was different. I didn’t see any wounded or dead. I was sure that everything that was happening to us was superficial, only a scare tactic. In a journalistic habit, I was just observing- and then I was shot. 


“Not a serious wound” 

I felt a heavy blow to my shoulder. A blow, as if a heavy-set man rocked me with a punch. But no one was near me, and it was clear that I had been hit with some kind of object. The shock kept me from feeling all of the pain at once. I didn’t even fall, or drop my phone from my hand. My brain turned on a computer-like autopilot. “Here is a problem: now think how to solve it. Figure out how to survive”. Even with my shattered bone, I managed to run. Now, in a cast, I can’t even think about attempting to do so. Even in the hospital I did not understand what was happening. I asked the nurses, “Can I sleep here, or will you send me home?”

I was incredibly lucky. An ambulance was scouting from around the corner. In the vehicle I saw another wounded. The guy was bleeding from his head, and had an open wound in his groin. He groaned that two of his fingers were torn off. It makes me sick to think that compared to him, I was far luckier. The wounded man constantly called his wife and wept. After the third call, I couldn’t take it anymore- “Sasha, shut up. Think about your wife. She’s sitting there, turning gray from your stories. I’m a girl, and here I am, not even calling my parents, so they could sleep through the night. It won’t get any worse now. We’ll get to the hospital and get sewn up, calm down.” He seemed to quiet down after this. By now the SWAT teams got a taste for violence, and started to fumigate people with tear gas. The doctor in the ambulance began to vomit from inhaling it. People from the street banged on the doors, trying to shove their way into the van for safety. I drank water and tried to slow my breathing. In the panic of the dire circumstance, I began to delete all images of the past 24 hours from my phone. We couldn’t leave the traffic jam for half an hour amid all the blocked roads.

And once again, I was lucky. I was lucky to have gotten straight to the hospital, where the doctors specialized in any sort of military field surgery. But they were tough, too. From the first moments after my arrival in the hospital, the nurses in the neighboring room started attacking a patient with scolding. “Yelena, look, it’s starting! They’re bringing in the damned revolutionaries. So, and why did you go to the protest? This is your own fault. Second night in a row that we’re receiving idiots like you. We’ve already got a full schedule of ultrasounds and operations tomorrow, and you’re ruining it. Junkies.” Wounded were arriving every 20 minutes. In the corridors, doctors whispered to each other that they had never seen so much blood in one night. 

As it turned out, the bullet hit my shoulder and shattered the collarbone into several sharp shards. The aim of rubber bullets is to avoid penetrating the body, but they create a deep,  forceful impact. This is why it is forbidden to aim at the corpus or the head. I ended up with a contusion on half my body- it only took a small contraction of my muscles to send my body into a shock of pain that reached all the way to my skull. Hematoma of the back, which I carried for more than a month, and an exposed fracture of the bone, and a wound 10 centimeters long and several centimeters wide. Two tampons were placed into my shoulder every day to stop the bleeding. 

Lying in a pool of your own blood for several days is now luck. When I was being put under anaesthetic before my first surgery, I overheard doctors discussing if they should try to save the leg of a 16 year old boy, or if he had a higher chance of survival after amputation. 

“During my second operation, under local anesthetics, I listened for three hours to the sound of doctors sawing my collarbone. I heard how they were unsuccessful the first time, and began again. How with their fingers, they combed through my muscles, and places the metal rods between the fragments of bone. How the table I was lying on was falling apart with age, and the lamp above my head slowly lowered. At the other end of the room, a surgeon complained: “Now these are real morons, we should cut their balls off. Still going to protests, and I have to pull bullets from their asses the fourth day in a row.” 
“Who’s so angry over there?” I asked them through the noise of the drill. “The doctor isn’t angry, he hasn’t slept in three days,” the nurse said to me softly. 

The doctors didn’t tell me until the next day that I had a fracture. In terms of military field surgery, my injury wasn’t considered complex, despite the fact that it took three operations to reconstruct my shoulder and caused complications in my lungs. This is the second month I am spending on sick leave, recovering. This week, the rods will be removed. Two shards of my collarbone fused together relatively evenly, but one juts out- I can feel its bump. It aches every day, in different manners. Sometimes I hear something cracking, and I feel a slight panic- but I get used to it. My left arm is much thinner than the right; the muscles have atrophied. There is a pulling pain along them. I believe that my body will return to its natural state when my cast gets taken off and I can use the limb again. The doctors tell me that however long my arm was in disuse is how long it will take for it to recover. The only thing I can’t do with one arm is put my bedsheets on- everything else is manageable. I work with one arm, not wanting to let my colleagues down. 
In perspective, I will have a beautiful scar along the entire length of my arm. I will not get it laser removed, and I will not cover it. I do not want to forget this. 



Under no circumstances can you file a report

I am grateful every day for the doctors that saved my life. They did the best they could in the circumstances. But why was I hidden away from law enforcement? I was not in the same wing as the rest of the injured. Even at 4 AM, I heard them come inside to interrogate the patients. I did not experience any of this, even though I know that by law, doctors are mandated to report a shooting injury. When my lawyer and I reviewed the diagnosis, we noticed my case was labelled a “household trauma”. Yeah, right, because this is a normal life event. 

By the way, Social Security established an interesting policy- they can pay off the days I spent on sick leave, but if in the future I am arrested or involved in any illegal activity, I will have to pay back all the money, including fees and interest. 
The first day I spent in hospital I received a call from volunteers saying they would like to help me. I wasn’t prepared for this, and out of surprise began to cry. They contacted me once again the day of my release. They introduced themselves as kind people, who have a common goal of helping victims, and were planning to establish themselves as an official foundation. After this call, they vanished. I understand that they wanted to check to see if I was planning on filing a report. 


Part 3 

I am too proud of Belarus to leave it behind. The night before the operation, doctors wanted me to call my parents- I firmly opposed them. They called my mother the next day. She is small and frail, but very brave. Since then, she attends protests every day. My father, on the other hand, is always too scared to discuss politics or participate. But my injury forced him to go to the prison where victims were held, and participate in a protest happening near it. He attended one more meeting after this. 

I have friends who did not call me once after my trauma. At one point, I was going out with an athlete representing Belarus’ national team. As soon as he found out I was wounded, he blocked me on every social platform. Older folks about my parents’ age said; “What, she hasn’t been fired yet?”. It turned out the opposite- I felt the most support from my colleagues (I run a website for a large international company). They sent me flowers and collected money to pay for my treatment. I thought I had become hardened, cold, while in rehabilitation- for a long time, I was unable to cry. The only exception was and is, while watching the footage of the killing of Alexander Taraikovsky. I think that was the peak of savage cruelty. And the way that officials poured sand and salt over the words graffitied on the asphalt- “We will not forget, we will not forgive”. That action was the quintessence of how the government regards us. They hope that we will forget this, and move on. But that will not happen. 

Many victims of injuries have a certain paranoia the first few days. After hospital, any time I saw military personnel or a police uniform while driving past Pushkinskaya, my stomach would churn for two days. Unfortunately, that station is two stops away from my workplace. 

My bullet wound became something like a slap in the face to me. For some reason, I felt terribly offended- I have spent more than 10 years here in Minsk. For the first month after, I thought that this city is not for me, and I was sure I would move away. All of this passed by itself. As a whole, looking not at the Belarusian news channels, but at its people- the mutual aid, the solidarity, the participation- Belarus becomes too impressive to leave. I believe that no revolution is worth all this bloodshed. But I do not regret that I was protesting that day. We are doing important work. 

P.S. (Skrevet av August 2020-teamet)

A month and a half later, after Kira had the needles taken out, it turned out that the first three operations were unsuccessful. Now the girl is sure: “The wounded were taken to the military hospital, not because there are the best doctors, but to hide them and hide the crimes of the Ministry of Internal Affairs from the public. For example, hand reconstruction is professionally dealt with only in the traumatology of the sixth hospital. But I was not transferred to a specialized hospital, but had three unsuccessful operations at home. As a result, there was a complication in the lung and bone dispersed after 1.5 months. Considering that gunshot fractures are complex in and of themselves, I believe that the doctors of the military hospital had no right to perform operations anyhow and to waste time. Now I already have a stale fracture, and ahead of the fourth and fifth operations to install a metal plate. I don’t even ask doctors about the prospects”.



Kira and her lawyer have already prepared a report to send to the investigative committee. However, they chose to wait to file it, after hearing the news that administrative and criminal cases are brought against the applicants. The tactic- patience. 


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