On the morning of Monday, 21 September, Belaruskali employee refused to leave a mine in protest against the situation in the country and at the enterprise. Oleg Kudelka said that he will not rise to the surface until his demands were met. After more than three hours he was brought to the surface. “I don’t regret what I did,” says Oleg Kudelka.
TUT.BY talked to the miner near the entrance of his house. He is still wearing a working uniform, next to him is his wife Tatiana in a T-shirt that reads “Land of the Free”. The man says that he was thinking over holding a solitary protest action on the first day of the strikes on 17 August.
“A lack of coherency is to blame. There were some people who began to sow discord, they said that this [the strike – BelarusFeed note] is illegal. The general director arrived, he was booed. We also gathered at the site of the 4th mine. The director came, but there was nothing to talk about. He kept repeating the same thing. At all factories, at all enterprises, they say the same thing over and over again,” says Oleg.
After that, it was announced that there would be a meeting of the foremen. Oleg says that he initially warned the foremen at his site not to go there.
“It was quite clear what would happen there. [I told them that] there would be a general director, there would be an administration, there would be more of them than you, they will simply crush you morally. Some of the foremen did not go, but they were few. The rest went and were crushed.
The general director drove through all the sites and promised that by the end of the year they will get increased monthly bonuses. Roughly speaking, he bought them. As a result, we had a bonus payment for Miner’s Day, and the next month – we had nothing. As I wrote in my letter, his [general director’s] promises should not be trusted.”
Besides the situation at the enterprise, the interlocutor the events happening in the country. “It’s mayhem. Especially yesterday, when they were dragging a pregnant woman [to a paddy wagon during a protest in Grodno – BelarusFeed note]. It’s a shock and awe,” he says.
Oleg says that initially he did not plan his protest the way it unfolded: he just wanted to write a letter, publish it and join the strike. He explained that he was inspired by another miner Yuri Korzun, who handcuffed himself to mine equipment two weeks ago.
“I decided to protest without handcuffs, so as not to interfere with the operation of the equipment, otherwise they could charge me with some article,” he said. However, the man decided to write a letter anyway. In the morning after the night shift, when Oleg and other miners were waiting in the mine for the car to leave, he gave his colleagues a piece of paper with his wife’s phone number on it.
“I asked them to hand over my demands to the deputy head of the mine. It was a surprise for them. They asked if I thought well. Repressions have already been applied to one of them – we had people who had been deprived of bonuses for the Miner’s Day, contract allowances until the end of the year, the thirteenth salary. So he asked me if I was ready for this. The guys got involved into a strike, while I joined it, which is not regulated by Belarusian legislation.”
Among his demands were:
- the resignation of the general director of Belaruskali,
- the release of all imprisoned member of the strike committee,
- putting an end to pressure on the strike committee members and their families,
- the cancellation of the decision to dismiss striking workers,
- to stop the lawlessness of the security forces, intimidation, detention and beating of civilians.
“I came prepared: I took some water, [..] a spare flashlight with batteries, since a miner’s lamp works for two shifts, tops. I did not go rogue and wnet into the old mine workings, where buildup of gases is possible. A device that detects gas works a shift, tops. Methane is imperceptible, one can simply suffocate. As a result, my boss was called and he found me. If not for that, they would still be looking for me, but he guessed where I was.”
It took a little more than three hours until Oleg was found. The head of the mine, the chief engineer, the deputy chief engineers for production, and several rescuers went down into the mine.
“When they found me, I began to gather my things slowly. I knew that they would use physical force if I disagreed. They examined me right in the mine: measured my blood pressure and gave me medicine, because it was high. Then they took me to a health center by ambulance, did an EKG test, measured my blood pressure again, and did a breathalyzer test.
Later I was taken to a neuropsychiatric dispensary, where I was examined in the presence of a police representative. It showed zero, no alcohol was found in my blood. They let me go wash up, get changed and then I went to talk to the deputy head of the police department.”
Oleg Kudelka says that by joining the strike, he expressed his own opinion. “The workers should think to whom they obey, whether they should follow the orders of such comrades. I will stay in the strike committee. I’m ready to be fired, although I don’t understand on what grounds they can do it. I don’t regret what I did, I was relieved after it.”