On 11 August, Lieutenant Colonel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Alexander Yerofeyev was coming home from work at the Ministry of Justice, but he didn’t get there. Right in the city center, he was detained by unknown people, beaten, got his ankle broken and taken to a police station.
In his interview, Yerofeyev recalled the words he heard in the minister’s office: “Riot police in our country don’t detain anyone for no reason”. He also told about the humiliation he and others suffered at the police station and explained why he stopped believing in justice.
“After everything that happened, I had to isolate myself from people in the uniform. When I see them, I start trembling with anger,” says Yerofeyev.
We meet with Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Yerofeyev in his relatives’ country house. While all of us are going to the dining room, two small dogs Jeff and Rat are running after Alexander Leonidovich. They are not a step away from their owner: they jump or lie down next to his feet. Back in September, two girls arrested for putting up leaflets had told us about the man who had been worried about his pets.
“There was an elderly man, with completely gray hair. All night long men were beaten on legs and forced to squat. If they couldn’t do it, they would hit them harder. This man, too. He asked me to call his son and tell him that the dogs were alone at home. The son lives in another city, the man was afraid that the animals would die before he got the news and reached the house. He was very upset.
And the ‘evil riot policeman’ started yelling at him, saying that he disgraced the shoulder boards, ordered to shut his mouth. That Colonel said that he was just going home, that he didn’t do anything. He was told, “You have disgraced the shoulder boards by sitting here”. It was scary. I’ve seen a man who doesn’t hear what is said to him, he is choking with hatred and is sure that he is totally right,” Olya recalled.
In this description, Alexander Yerofeyev recognized himself and stresses once again that on the evening of 11 August, he was returning home.
“I admit, I didn’t even go to the polls on 9 August. The last time I was at the polling station was during the referendum in 1995 and I voted for historical symbols, but after seeing the results, I realized that it is pointless,” says the lieutenant.
I asked to take his balaclava off and show his face
Alexander Yerofeyev is 61 years old, he is a liquidator of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. He graduated from the BSUIR, worked for two years at the factory and worked in the KGB, then in the Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee. His last job was a leading system analyst of the information Technology Department in the Ministry of Justice.
“On 11 August, we went home earlier than usual so that we could safely get home. And I went the usual route of the Ministry of Justice-Zybitskaya-a park-Krasnaya-Komarovka,” Alexander Leonidovich begins his story.
For many years, the man notes, he returned home on foot. That time he decided not to change the tradition, especially since there was no rallies on the streets at 5 pm.
“It’s sad when you’re detained for no reason. It would feel better if I’d taken part in a rally and been detained. But it wasn’t the case. I was just walking quietly smiling to myself. Then suddenly near Zhuravinka restaurant I was attacked by three men – ninjas as I call them. I was knocked down, the two picked me up, and the third one punched me between the legs.
Then they dragged me to a bus and beating me all over my body with batons along the way, took all my things, and tied my hands behind my back. They punched me so viciously on the bus that they broke my ankle. I asked the one in a balaclava to take it off and show his face – he refused, but I will remember those eyes.”
The Lieutenant Colonel recalls how girls were crying in the bus and he tried to calm them down, how people asked to go to the toilet, they were not allowed and “had to do that in their pants”.
“Together with me, an employee of the security service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was detained, as he introduced himself, and a former riot policeman. We were driven around the city, then loaded into some vehicle, placed us in several layers and walked on us. When it was getting dark, they brought us to the Soviet Police Department, put us against the wall — hands up, we were not allowed to bend them. To keep our legs as wide as possible, we were constantly hit on the ankles.”
While being beaten there, I begged to shoot me
At the police station, Alexander Yerofeyev was photographed, videotaped, and taken to sign a report in the middle of the night.
“You ask to read the protocol – you are beaten. You refuse to sign it – you are beaten again. You ask about the content of the documents you sign. You are told it’s participation in an unauthorized event. I suggested to look at my geolocation at the time of arrest. The reply was, ” old gray-haired bastard, you think you’re so smart?”. Another punch, OK, I’ll sign it. But instead of my signature, I put the letter “E”.
In the morning, a Lieutenant Colonel in a balaclava with two stars on his shoulder boards came and began to threaten me. They said that I disgraced my shoulder boards by getting to the police station. Their logic is very simple. If you’re there, it’s your fault. At about five in the morning, they ordered to do exercises – you sit down on ‘one’ and until they say ‘two’ – you can’t get up. I like to do morning exercises, every morning I work out for an hour, so this was a plus for me,” the Lieutenant Colonel notes.
He left the police station after 11 am, without a report or any documents confirming his detention. “I looked at the phone, and there were more calls than I’d ever had in my entire life’”
“When I signed the papers so that they give me my things back, I put on a smile. When inside, I was emotionless, but I went out and got hysterical. I just sobbed and cried. While being beaten there, I begged to shoot me. There, standing against the wall, I was afraid that I would maim me, I didn’t want to be a burden to my family. I was terrified that some people in balaclavas were self-aggrandizing humiliating me… I hadn’t cried for a long time. But I did then, when I got out. Probably, those were the tears of purification, tears of epiphany,” says Alexander Yerofeyev.
For the last five years, he worked in the Ministry of Justice and immediately after being released from the police department hurried to work. He says he personally wanted to ask Minister Oleg Slizhevsky: “Can I work in your department after what I have experienced over the previous day?”.
“I fixed an appointment for a personal matter, and went to the Minister’s office before 12 o’clock. I came limping, wearing dark glasses over red, teary eyes. Oleg Leonidovich listened and said:’I don’t believe it, our riot police don’t just detain people in our country for no reason.’ He said he would register that I was absent on the working day, although at that time I was absent for less than three hours, and dismissed me on the next day. I have 45 years of work experience, I didn’t want to close the book with an ugly page, and I just resigned. My contract expires in September 2021,” the man adds.
Something broke down
Right after the conversation with the minister, the Lieutenant Colonel went to the clinic of the Ministry of Itenral Affairs. He assumes that jacked up on adrenaline he didn’t feel any pain, since the doctors diagnosed a fracture of the right ankle and put a cast.
“A day later, the pain was unbearable,” Alexander Yerofeyev shows the pictures taken right after he left the clinic. His ankle is in a cast, and his legs are bruised all over.
“The doctor said that he would report my injury to the police, days passed, nothing happened, and my family took me to the Investigative Committee on crutches. On 17 August, I wrote a 10-page statement, asked to bring those beating me to criminal responsibility, and give a legal assessment of the actions of the Minister of Justice.
When an investigator accepted my application, I had to answer 25 additional questions: what my social media account is, email address, what device I use, and what telegram channels I’m subscribed to. I gave all the answers and was sent to medical expertise. When I saw battered people in the queue, I burst out crying for the second time.”
To register his injuries, Alexander Yerofeyev had been waiting in line for four hours. He gave the investigator the unwashed clothes he had been wearing on 11 August. From time to time he tries to find out whether a criminal case has been opened.
“The check has been again extended for a month, my geolocation was not requested. Now there is a problem: I need to prove that I broke my leg not at home but during detention, that I actually was in the Soviet Police Department but I don’t have any documents on me. There was no trial under article 23.34 [participation in unauthorised mass event – Ed.] of the administrative code,” adds Alexander Yerofeyev.
And there won’t be. A two-month period for bringing him to administrative responsibility has expired.
“I picked up my employment record at the Ministry of Justice on crutches. While I was hobbling, some of my ex-colleagues turned away. This is some kind of degradation of human relations, when every man is for himself,” the Lieutenant Colonel looks away and gets quiet.
He recalls how he has served for 15 years as head of the communications and information department in the Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk Oblast Executive Committee. He says that the service itself was interesting, he was engaged in re-equipping the duty units, but a new general came, and he had to leave the service.
So was it the leader or the crisis that the Belarusian police found themselves in?
“A manager is like a product of the environment that forms him. Then, in 2005, I started to think: what happened? Why is it when you read papers written by police officials, it’s impossible to grasp their essence? It feels like they’re written in Chinese.”
Did the police in the early 2000s differ from the police in the 90s?
“Like chalk and cheese. In the 90s, you could talk to people in uniform in a human way but then something broke down. People saw each other as competitors, I began to withdraw and communicate with colleagues less. Once after an appointment with a general, when I left his office, there were some people standing by the door asking me the reasons for my visit. I was shocked. Is it jealousy or something? It’s not healthy for anyone to count how many times you go to the general’s office. And this situation speaks volumes.”
Until 11 August, I didn’t feel betrayed, now I do
Did it turn out to be more important to make a career in law enforcement?
Yes, I agree. Everyone began to fear for their existence. When the board was held, the officers joked: “Who will you be after the board? A Major or combine operator?”
Now they say the same things about those who disperse rallies: they have something to lose. Tell us what a policeman loses when he becomes a combine harvester.
“A combine operator will come to Minsk, and no one will know who he is. And when a riot policeman works even at one rally, people become afraid of him. Have you ever wondered why people go to the police? Imagine, a person lives in a village, not in the best conditions, no one knows about him at all. And then he moves, for example, to Minsk or Brest, they give him a cap, a baton, an apartment and a decent salary. For a person who just walked around the village, it’s like going to heaven, grab God by the beard. Now police officers consider themselves the masters of life, the arbiters of destinies, I felt this on the bus, when I was lying with my hands tied.”
And what did you personally lose when you left the police?
“At one point there was a void, I went to work, worked almost seven days a week and suddenly I was sitting at home. Nobody wants you, you’ve been thrown overboard, the phone is silent. Mentally, I was ready to leave the law-enforcement agencies, but until I myself got into the situation, I couldn’t feel everything in advance. Yes, I have a pension, but not everything in life is measured by money.”
As Alexander Yerofeyev admits, like many Belarusians, he now relives the same emotions every day. One day he believes in changes and the following he is hopeless. We are talking at the time when he has almost no hope.
“I don’t see how things can change. People in power are well-fed, drive good cars, and have a poor idea of how people live in other cities. I have been an active fan of the Dynamo-Minsk football club for more than 50 years, and I travel all over the country. I go to all the places where the Dynamo plays. Let’s say there will be new elections, but where will all the current leaders and officials go? Will they be removed at once? The Interior Ministry will still remain. Who will work there? The same people. But there’s one thing I know – you can’t live like this. I didn’t feel cheated until 11 August but I do now. Therefore, to get a breath of fresh air, in the evenings I go to New Borovaya,” [one of the most rebelious Minsk neighbourhoods – Ed.]