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Peaceful Protesters Tell Their Harrowing Stories From Emergency Hospital

“I’ve never felt a pain like this before. And I asked myself: if they go on, will I die or not?” says 20-year-old Alexey. He was detained near the Komarovsky market on the night of 13 August during mass protests in Minsk. Now he is in intensive care, he can’t get up and can’t relieve himself. He has a catheter connected to drain urine. As we speak, two nurses nearby gently pat his hand and lift the coverlet with their fingertips not to cause him pain. This is what they did to him,” they say.

TUT.BY reporters managed to talk to patients of the emergency hospital in Minsk. Some of them are still in intensive care, others were discharged and returned home to their families. But there are still months of treatment and rehabilitation ahead. All of the interviewees, except one, agreed to show their face, take pictures and videos, and have their diagnoses disclosed.

We want to thank the doctors who are saving the lives of people on both sides of the confrontation, often at great risk to their own lives. We appreciate they have allowed us to speak with their patients. Much of what follows may be difficult for some to read and listen to as it includes graphic accounts of violence and graphic language that some readers may find disturbing.

Alexey Kurachev, 20 years old

Diagnosis: closed brain injury, concussion, injury of soft tissues and cheek-bone on the right-hand side, bruises of the left and right superciliary regions of the right and left thighs’ soft tissues, left gluteal region. Traumatic shock of the 2nd degree.

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It was on the night of August 13 in the Komarovsky market area. I walked peacefully with people chanting: “Long live Belarus”. Then someone said: “Paddy wagons are coming.” I was chased into a courtyard, and there was a school… I was detained in the courtyard of an apartment block. My biology teacher lives there. Then one of them tied my hands, and several other riot policemen ran up, and one of them just kicked me in the face with his boot. Another one used his baton. People from the apartment building were shouting, “What are you doing?!”, and the riot policemen replied, “They were going to throw Molotov cocktails at your windows.”

They beat me and led me to the paddy wagon. Then they began questioning me. “Why were you walking there?” I said I wanted democratic elections in the country to take place without falsifications. And they asked, “Do you want to join America?” I answered that I do not want to join them, I just want democratic elections. One of them said, “You’d better not get caught. You have no idea what awaits you now.”

I was alone in the paddy wagon. They all had a go at me. All of them who were there – 8 or 10 policemen, fully equipped, and with full-body armor. They gave me a few punches; I fell to the floor face down. They said, “Hands behind your head!” and began beating me. They beat everywhere, beat, beat, beat. It went on for a very long time, I think, about an hour, maybe more. They took pauses only to take me out and interrogate trying to find out who my “coordinator” was.

Then, they beat me, beat me… Mainly on the legs and buttocks. Then they said, “We need to give him a haircut. He’s some kind of faggot. They took me by the hair, cut it off and said, “Eat” it. I said, “Guys, I don’t want to eat it.” Then, I put it in my jeans pocket, it’s still there. They took my phone, read the messages. Constantly threatened me with rape. They poked a baton between my buttocks, saying, “We’ll f*ck your ass.” 

You can plead with them or not plead with them, they’ll continue to beat you. And I pleaded with them, “Please, do not hit me.”  They still hit on the same spots. I said: “Guys, I understood your position. I was just going to protest peacefully.” And they said, “Were you going to throw stones at us?” I didn’t throw any stones, I didn’t throw any Molotov cocktails, I didn’t even intend to. They pulled me out of the paddy wagon, my underwear was torn. Some badass gunmen came to us. He said: “Well, you will be shot!” I said: “Guys, don’t shoot me. I didn’t want to do anything to you.” 

They took me to some other guy. And they had an obsessive idea that someone paid me or that I was on drugs. They constantly asked about it. It looks like they’ve been constantly told that everyone who protested has been paid or is a drug addict. They were trying to find out who was my informant or coordinator. I said, “Guys, I don’t have any coordinator.” But they didn’t believe me. And then they said: “Okay, we’ll get you to the station now.” And that was just the beginning.

Then they led me to another wagon that was waiting near the War Monument. I heard screams. Fierce screams. “There,” they said, “there is one fatso there now, you will take his place.” I went there and said: “Guys, I have fully realized my guilt, do not touch me.”  Of course, they were not interested to hear this. They beat the guy; they just battered him fiercely. Looked like they brought him from another suburb. They beat me several times and placed me in the back of the paddy wagon. They continued to beat that boy again and again without any mercy. He said, “Guys, I can’t scream anymore.” They answered, “Well, don’t scream then,” and continued to beat him.

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Then the kid started losing consciousness. They pulled him out of the paddy wagon, and I understood that it’s my turn now. They began to beat me, even though they had already beat me badly in the previous wagon. They hit me on the same spot. I screamed and screamed. The pain was just unbearable. But they didn’t care. I realized I couldn’t scream anymore. I just shut up. Beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, beat. At some point, they stopped and said: “So, guys, looks like he fainted from the pain shock.” I could no longer speak, that the policeman hit me hard in the ear, and I mumbled something, I could not speak. I realized that I could no longer react to anything.
They said: “Alex, Alex,”. I kept silent.

They poured water over me and threw me on the concrete. At this moment I understood that if I moved at that point, this hell would continue. I didn’t move. They continued to pour cold water over me while I was laying on the asphalt. An ambulance arrived in about 25 minutes. I think the doctor saw that I was conscious, but he did not say it. He gave me an IV injection and the ambulance took me away. After that, I passed out and woke up in the hospital. Something like that… I’ve never felt a pain like this before. And I didn’t know: if they continued, would I die or not?

How long did they beat you?

At a moment like this one, time is irrelevant… In the second paddy wagon, near the War monument, the guys were absolutely deaf to any words. You could scream, pray, whatever, but they were absolutely not responsive. They aimed to kill and rape. They also forced us to sing the national anthem in the paddy wagon, forced to say “I love riot police.” In short, they were sophisticated, absolutely ruthless people. As I understand it, riot police must deal with especially dangerous criminals, for example, armed terrorists. They use ruthless measures; it is impossible to endure pain like this. Just impossible. It is unbearable pain, and they do this to peaceful people. I heard from the doctor that they brought in a girl who was also threatened with rape.

Did they call an ambulance for you only when they thought you passed out?

Yes, only when they thought I was dead.

Maxim Salnikov, 34 years old

Diagnosis: concomitant injury, closed brain injury, concussion, injury of the soft tissues of the occipital region and chest, closed abdominal trauma, rupture of 3rd, and 4th liver segments.

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On Rokossovsky Avenue, I went to the store to buy some cigarettes. I went around the corner from my house. They came racing out from behind the bushes. They were already standing with shields. I looked, they were running to me, and I was alone. I said: “No, no, it’s okay!” They put me down anyway and started beating me. They sprayed gas. Then they threw me into the wagon and beat me there. And when they brought me to [Leninskoye] Police Department, they gave me a couple more hits. That’s all. Maxim is silent. And he stares forward for a very long time. It’s hard to describe what’s in this look.

Were you beaten right on the street?

“Yes,” Maxim says.

For how long?

“About three minutes,” he replies.

Where did they hit you?

“The liver.”

Can you tell me what injury do you have?

“Partial rupture of the liver,” Maxim tells us.

Did you have surgery?

“Yes. The day before yesterday. (…) I have been here for three days.”

How did you get here?

“I called an ambulance from my house,” Maxim replies.

That is, after the beating, you returned home and called?

“Yes.”

Alexander Alkhovsky, 21 years old

Diagnosis: closed combined brain injury, concussion, pneumomediastinum, subcutaneous emphysema of the neck, multiple bruises, abrasions of the soft tissues of the head, trunk, and left limb.

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I was detained on the night of 11-12 August at 73 Goretskogo Street. People gathered there, and I was heading into the courtyard. The minibus with the policemen drove up. And they came, threw all people to the ground, beat us with batons and kicked. Then they loaded us into the bus and drove around for a long time, for about an hour, two or three, I don’t know. Physical force was used in the bus. Then they brought me somewhere and let me through the “corridor” – they kicked me with batons and kicked me from all sides.

Everything was fine in the police department; no physical force was used. So, we just waited. Then they took us to the street and put face down on the ground. They asked if anybody had received any money – like, did someone pay us to participate in the rally. They asked some provocative questions. A day later we were taken to the jail on Akrestin Street, where I was convicted. Then, for health reasons, I was taken from there to the hospital.

Why were you taken to the hospital?

“Concussion, a hematoma on the hip, multiple bruises. There was some problem with the respiratory tract: air accumulated in the bronchi, it was difficult to swallow, breathe, the voice changed a little. We did a CT scan, an ultrasound scan, everything was checked,” Alexander says.

Can you clarify again who beat you?

“Riot police officers, as I understand it. In black attire, masks. Who exactly, I will not say, no one introduced themselves. I don’t know the license plate number of the minibus, I don’t even remember the make,” he tells us.

How many people beat you?

“Two. First, one beat on the legs, then the second ran up. But on the bus I was lying on the floor, hiding my head under the seat, so it would not get hit because my hands were fastened behind my back. I didn’t see how many people were there in the minibus. Judging by conversation, there were four people, maybe more.”

Did they tell you anything?

“They were swearing, threatened with physical violence and even death. They asked questions like who bought you, who paid you?”

Did you call an ambulance from a detention centre on Okrestin Street?

“Yes, the doctor there pointed at me and said: ‘He must be taken to the hospital.’”

“About 30 people traveled with me to the detention centre on Okrestin Street. Only two of them were taken to hospital. From what I’ve heard they took more people to the detention centre. They say there were a lot of guys who got beaten up badly. In general, many people went to see doctors.”

“[For me] everything seems to have ended fine. Relatively normal…”

“And those riot policemen were young guys, 20-25 years old, maybe 30. My peers.”

Those who detained you?

“Yes, the policemen. The older ones did paperwork.”

How did your relatives find you?

“They did not get a call, no one told them. They searched themselves. When the ambulance was on its way, we asked the paramedic to call, and he kindly assisted. In detention, we could not call, could not text, as the police did not allow. Just kept us. Some people had been detained for three days and did not have a chance to call. Also, people did not get to eat anything. Police only gave water. And some guys were in the police department’s detention room for three days, there was simply no room in the detention centre.”

How long did you stay at Okrestin’s detention centre?

“A day in the police department and a day there.”

Did they feed you? Did they give you water?

“They fed me, gave me water, as expected. That day everything went quietly, many lawyers came and [there] seemed to be some kind of journalists. They said that because of this everything was so calm.”

People living in the neighborhood of the detention centre reported awful screams at night. Did you hear them?

“At night, I did not hear moans. But those people who spent the previous day there said that they did. However, I was not personally beaten. I spent just a day there, I can’t say.”

Maria Zaitseva, 19 years old

Diagnosis: closed brain injury, traumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage, bruised wounds of the right temple, right shoulder, shrapnel wounds of the eyelids and periorbital region of the right eye, a foreign fragment in the sclera, injury of the eyeball, subconjunctival haemorrhage in the right eye, explosive injury, traumatic perforation of the eardrum on the right, posttraumatic neuropathy of the right ulnar nerve with a mild paresis of 4-5 fingers of the right hand.

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“I came from Gomel, now I’m in Minsk after the protests on 9 August. I was wounded, presumably, by fragments of a stun grenade, and they found a couple of rubber bullets in me. I got injured seriously, yes.”

Where did it happen?

Near the War Monument, on 9 August. I do not know the specific address, I am not from here. (…) Somewhere on the side, there are traces after the fragments. They also said that they found bullets in me, but I don’t remember how they shot at us. I was stunned after the explosion. And then my friend and the people around tried to drag me away somewhere. Scary photos of me sitting in a half-dead state, my head punctured and covered in blood. It also got on the web. I was stunned, I did not hear or see anything. They also tried to talk to me. Well, and then, apparently, they took me to the ambulance and took me to hospital.

I see marks on your neck.

“Yes, I was wounded in the head, and my eardrum was also torn.”

And you cannot hear with this ear, now?

“Right. But it will heal. It’s not so bad, the eardrum may heal. So far, the wounds from shrapnel and bullets are healing, and then the doctors will deal with the ear.”

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Did you mention earlier that you didn’t even see?

“I was blinded. I have contact lenses, pretty bad eyesight. One of the lenses fell out after a blow to the eye. Apparently, the fragments flew in. The lens saved me. Thanks to them, I still have my vision. Now I can’t see anything just because I can’t put my contacts in, but the vision is normal.”

Did you see who was shooting and from where?

I remember the very beginning of the protests when people stood in a large crowd in several rows. Some guys walked with megaphones in front of the crowd, but I could not hear what they were saying. I think they were trying to negotiate with the police. The police did nothing. They even lowered their shields. People told them not to come out against us, that we were holding a peaceful protest. Although some people threw empty bottles at the police.

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The bottles did not reach them, because we were in an open space. The crowd calmed down quickly, because most people wanted to protest peacefully. Then the police raised their shields again, began to shoot water from the cannons. I don’t know why. We stood peacefully, shouting that we are for peace. I remember being sprayed with water, and after that, there was an explosion. I was lying on the ground, and after that, I don’t remember anything.

Alexander Pashkovsky, 32 years old

Diagnosis: closed brain injury, concussion, subcutaneous hematoma of the parieto-occipital region, nose bleeding. He asked not to show his face.

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On 11 August, we went there with friends: I asked my friends to give us a ride from home to Pushkinskaya Square and they agreed. We went there to lay flowers on the spot where a peaceful protester died the night before. We just tossed the flowers through the window quickly and drove on. At that time everything was blocked, riot police were everywhere. So, we got to Independence Avenue and turned right to turn around. Near the Red Church, we were stopped by traffic police. They asked for our driver’s license, then asked to show them the insides of a trunk. Then they told us to drive ten meters forward and wait there, at the intersection under the bridge that goes to the Institute of Culture.

Three or four minutes later, a tinted Ford minibus drove up. Four people came out. They were not riot policemen. They had a triangle on the back. I don’t remember what was written there. They surrounded the car and told us to get out; they did not say for what reason. They told us to shut up, opened the door, and I think they broke the window glass. They took me out, threw me face down. I was the first to be pulled into the minibus. I wanted to get up, so I knelt. They began to beat me with batons. They beat everyone with their hands and feet. My friends were also brought in, they got beaten, too. They took away their phones and asked for passwords.

The guys didn’t have passwords, so the police watched videos from Nexta channel and other telegram channels. They shouted at my friends: “Ah, you are a spying journalists!” They beat me for it. I didn’t tell them my password, so they beat me for that too. This irritated them even more. They drove us in the minibus for about ten minutes, all this time they kept beating us: some got beaten worse, some, if I may say so, not so bad.  We stopped and they began to transfer us to the paddy wagon. The distance between the vehicles was a little less than a meter.

They told me to get out on my knees. I started to get up, and they started beating me. In the street, there were riot police. But these guys were the ones who transport prisoners. Their uniform didnt have identification marks. They beat us badly. They ordered me to get everything out of the pockets. I put my hands in my pockets, and they started battering me again. God forbid they found something that looked like a knife or that could be used as a weapon, a hairpin or something else, all the same. They beat me even harder shouting, “Are you the organizer? So, you wanted changes in the country?”. 

Inside the bus they told me to turn away, sit in the corner, not to move close to the window. They threatened me: “You will no longer be able to see.” Two or three minutes later, three more people were thrown in. They were already handcuffed with the plastic restraints. These people were ordinary blue-color workers going home from a construction site. Then, they threw another 19 people in. Two guys were taken from a car. They were going to the BigZ store nearby to fill up the car when they got caught. Their car was left in the street. The last two people were a guy on a bicycle and a nurse. “Ah, did you want to help them? Who will help you now?” they said.

They did not beat her, but they humiliated her. She sat there crying. The guy with a bicycle had a heart attack. They stopped and some doctor gave him a pill. We were first put in that wagon at 8 pm, so all of this lasted for two or three hours. We arrived at the Leninskoye Police Department. At the entrance, we heard the cries of people who were beaten. Since there were a lot of people, it was not clear what was happening. We drove into the courtyard, and the door opened. There was a passage between low barriers where the riot policemen beat us from both sides with batons while we were walking through, shouting at us, “What, did you want the changes in the country? Well, here are your changes” . It was like a 15 meters long passage.

They put us all against the walls in the backyard. There were two or three people on duty to walk around and beat us. A dude to my left fainted and fell on the ground. When we tried to help him, they began to beat us and him to bring him back to consciousness. They threw him against the wall and said, “If you fall again, you won’t get up.” A police girl came up with a riot policeman to take the details. When asked, a normal person’s reflex would be to turn to the speaker, those who did turn were hit with the baton. They asked for a full name, a date of birth. Then, people were taken to a special room, by different walkways, so that no one would remember the way, probably.

We were asked who we are, where we live, and filmed us from all sides as we gave our answers. I remember that they brought a group of people, and shouted, “These are the organizers, they have axes, knives”. They yelled at them again, “Ah, f*ck, you are the organizers and instigators?!” and hit them. Then another group of people was brought in. The same thing happened again: “the corridor”, everyone got beaten up as they passed. There wasn’t any more room near the wall by this moment. My hands were swollen from the restraints. The shoulder was slightly injured. I began to feel unwell and was taken to a doctor.

In this last batch, there were many people with gunshot wounds. Unconscious people. They could not question them. Two guys with the wounds were lying next to me. One had a wound in his head or neck. And then it was hell: the paramedics came and saw all this, they tried to call for more ambulances to take people because there were a lot of gunshot wounds. As I understand, some were taken to a military hospital or, if a person was about to die, to the nearest hospital to save him. Some of them began to faint. A man lying next to me had a gunshot wound. While the doctors were trying to resuscitate him, riot police continued to beat the wounded, those with gunshot wounds. They were yelling at the doctors for trying to treat them.

Did they beat those who were lying on the floor?

“Yes. And the doctor yelled at them, ‘You, beast, move away! Why are you hitting him? He is already fu****.’ The policeman yelled back, “You b****, if you say another word, you will be with him.”

Did the policeman call the doctor a “b****”?

“Yes, the paramedic woman, she was so brave, she started yelling at him. He said, “Follow my orders!’ and she replied, “I give orders here because this person is dying!”

What was even more epic is that when people were beaten, a female police officer walked in and did not even say a word, she looked at this all, calmly, didn’t ask them to stop. And they say female officers are better. So much for being a good girl. When they beat people lying on the floor, and when they attacked ambulance staff, no one intervened. Nobody said, “Calm down, stop!”. In the distance, I heard that someone tried to pull a police officer away. But he still came back and started yelling at a paramedic. There was one moment when I thought they would hit the doctor. If she would have continued, she would be battered.

The paramedics tried to take more people away by ambulance. There were lots and lots of people. I don’t know where they came from. There were many injured, in blood. The police yelled at doctors, “No, we will keep this one”. I remember that one guy could not answer questions, he could only mumble. They asked his name, and he could not say. One guy had a bullet in his elbow, but he was conscious. Another one had his head covered in blood. While they were checking me in, three-four more people were brought in. Beaten up worse than me.

Were there many unconscious people in the police department?

“There were two guys with gunshot wounds near me. They also brought in a batch of people who had been sprayed with gas, they lay down covering their eyes with their hands, asking for water to wash their eyes. They could not see anything.”

Where did all this happen?

“In the backyard of the police station, as people could not fit in the building. It was chilly at night. Those who had some more clothes on them were more or less lucky. But there were lots of people in T-shirts, shorts.”

According to your estimates, how many people were in this backyard?

“They brought 20 of us, the same number was already there. While we were being processed, two more paddy wagons drove up, with at least 20 people each. And when we left, there was another one.”

Kirill Piskarev, 24 years old

Diagnosis: closed brain injury, concussion, closed dislocation of the shoulder. Chest injury.

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I ended up here because of the Belarusian authorities. On 10 August, at the avenue near the circus, a tinted unmarked Ford minibus rolled up, a door opened and they ran out. I tried to escape but someone in the bushes hit me very hard. They dislocated my shoulder, beat me many times with batons on my head and body, and tasered me. They started beating me when I was already on the ground. They beat me in the bus for 25-40 minutes, then they put two more people on top of me. And I was already with a numb hanging hand.

Two more people were taken from Rokossovsky Street. One of them was a riot policeman himself. He said: “I am one of you, one of you, of 120th division (the street where the riot police is based).” They checked him, he was a retired lieutenant. They began to beat him even more severely on the head with the words “dismissed”. All this happened on top of me, I felt it all. My arm dangled, my lip was cut. Then, I lost consciousness, twice… When I lost consciousness the first time, they put two stun guns to my neck. Here, there is still a scar. And there is another one on the other side of the neck. The second time when I lost consciousness they tasered me again.

After that, they brought us to the Presidential Administration building, I could tell by the street tiles. Then we were loaded into a paddy wagon, it was all packed, there were already 19 people. They put me in the last cell and drove around the city for an hour. Then they brought another guy in, he was a taxi driver. I do not know where they took him, but they smashed his front window and dragged him out. The guy was young, about 20 years old. He was all bruised and lost consciousness. When they put him in, it became clear that the authorities wanted to do it as aggressively as possible on that day.

We were driven for an hour, inside it was stuffy and unbearable. Then they brought me to the Central Police Department. We understood this when we heard trams nearby. Here’s another thing, one of them was an officer, he was in that tinted Ford. Colonel or lieutenant colonel. He was also beating us. He was a seasoned one, he was giving orders. When we arrived at the police station, the whole yard was packed. People were standing against the wall, they were hit on the back of their heads with gun handles, with batons – to keep them standing. And when they fell, they were kicked.

Released Detainees Tell About Beatings, Torture And Other Atrocities

My hand was numb and dangling because it was dislocated. They made me lean against the wall, asked to raise two arms. But I could not raise that one, and they hit me twice on the shoulder. And on the legs. I started to lose consciousness again. And someone from the police department came (because, as I understood, there were only riot policemen in the backyard), and took me by the neck. They wanted to put the handcuffs on, but I tried by all means to show them that I’m injured, and if they put the cuffs on now, I would lose my arm. They dragged me into a detention centre building. There were already 20 people there. All beaten up.

There were also some 15-16-year-old teenagers. I spent three hours there without medical assistance. This is when we realized that everything was serious: people were tortured on the fourth floor, and it continues, I think… They hung people up by handcuffs, beat them in the groin, on the head. That is, people coming from the fourth floor, where the protocols were drawn up, as I understood it, were half-dead. I experienced it myself, I saw it. They took one guy to the detenion centre, he was okay when they detained him. Then he was taken to the fourth floor and came back barely alive, beaten blue. He told me then what they did to him.

There were also girls. They were in a neighboring isolation ward. One of the guys said that they tried to harass them in every possible way, sexually. Allegedly, they were undressed, put up against the wall, and photographed. After they turned off the light, I was done, I was just pouring out sweat and blood. Finally, one policeman called the ambulance. He was a junior and had just joined the police recently. He just saw how bad I was and called the ambulance.

While I was lying, I was beaten many times because I tried to put my arm more comfortably and I moved. It hurt me so much. An ambulance arrived and they took me to hospital. We drove through Bangalore Square, the area around the Riga store was very messy. There they punctured our tires. The ambulance’s tires were punctured.

Who punctured your tires?

People in a tinted Ford. They jumped out when we were already approaching, a couple of such tinted cars were driving along. One of them punctured our tire which took us about 35 minutes to fix… Then we made a detour to the hospital. And the hospital was overcrowded with people with shrapnel wounds, crushed bones, and so on. They put my shoulder back in place, and I went home. I slept for a day and went to a polyclinic. But in the evening, I had a temperature and felt sick. An ambulance was called for me again. At a hospital, I was X-rayed because the doctors suspected a broken rib.

According to your estimates, how many people were there in the police department?

If you count the backyard, then about 750. There were people inside the building and in the backyard, people were standing against all the walls, and there was a mountain of people’s stuff in the middle. More people in detention chambers in the building, and on the floor all around. I would also like to say that police investigators came [to the hospital] at 4 am. They interrogated people, breaking the law because it is not allowed to do at night, especially in a hospital. There were no doctors at night, and they didn’t listen to nurses.

They said they were just having a conversation. That they didn’t have enough time, that’s why they came at 4 in the morning. But in fact, people were after surgery, on medication – how could they refuse? They came and bothered other patients. They made recordings, videos, and audio. They somehow missed us, but everyone said that 20 people were interrogated by the investigators on the 11th floor in the surgery department. Nobody is allowed in the intensive care unit, but a couple of investigators went in there too.

Earlier TUT.BY wrote that doctors are outraged that forensic experts do not come to examine and document the injuries of the patients who suffered from beatings in detention centres. As a rule, forensic experts come to hospital, but not to such patients. The investigator in charge of a case should call in forensic experts, but they don’t, explained one of the doctors.


Ksenia Elyashevich / Photos: Vadim Zamirovsky / TUT.BY

The text is translated by Garry Severine, edited by Tatiana Volkova

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