Riot police spent the whole Sunday night in *Changes Square neighbourhood where they destroyed a makeshift memorial to Roman Bondarenko and brutally dispersed peaceful protesters. After which, they went from door to door looking for those hiding in nearby apartments. Some were on duty at the entrances and even introduced passport control there – those without registration were arrested.
TUT.BY reporters managed to speak with people who had to lie on the floor motionless for more than 15 hours, without food, water and air. They describe the hours they spent locked up as “a real siege.” Marina is one of the many who had to hide from security forces after the crackdown on Changes Square. According to some estimates, up to 200 people were “held hostage” there.
“What we have experienced is very similar to the stories our grandmothers told us about the war. We were lying on the floor in the dark for 15 hours, we did not move, there was not enough air, no food. Those who had it stayed hungry in solidarity with the others. I had a bun and two gingerbread, but how to share it if there are dozens of us?” says Marina.
On Sunday morning Marina went to church service, and then headed to Chervyakov Street to honour the memory of Roman Bondarenko. She recalls that when security forces began their offensive, people simply raised their hands up and started shouting: “Shoot us!”, “Shoot us!”
“Then [stun – Ed.] grenades exploded, people were screaming, and I ran into the first open doors. We heard security forces talking on the radio, how they were walking nearby, but no one listened to what they were saying, we were scared to death,” Marina conveys the emotions of those who were next to her.
“In my experience, you usually sit in ambush for two-three hours and then go outside. No one could have imagined that it would take 15 hours. There were a lot of us, at some point it became too stuffy, but we kept pretending that we were not there and remained lying on the floor. We saw how some guys were detained in neighbouring houses, brutally beaten, and taken into police wagons. It was scary… Someone just sat down on the floor and did not go to the toilet in 15 hours.”
On Monday, at about 10 am, Marina and fellow sufferers managed to leave the building in Changes Square.
Our bellies rumbled like orchestras
On Sunday night, Victoria did not come home either. According to the woman, she did not miss a single Sunday march, but “there has never been such a siege.”
“I ran into someone’s apartmet at 4.25 pm yesterday, and left it only this morning. I came out in shock, some buses drove up to catch us, we managed to flee. It seems to me, there were about 200 people under siege. When in the morning, a lot of people ran out to Changes Square, I got scared: are they ours or plainclothesmen? Will they catch me? I could tell by their exhausted faces – ours.”
Victoria says that it was very difficult psychologically. First, everyone tried to remain silent so as not to expose ourselves, as a result, they couldn’t to discuss what to do next. Secondly, they all the time heard the police negotiations, their steps, saw how the officers shone their flashlights in search of the protesters.
“But we understood that it was better there than in a police department under pressure and torture. When strangers hid me, I hesitated: can I trust them? I was offered a toilet, to have a sit. It felt like magic. Every hour we thought we would leave, but security forces stayed. It was weird. Yes, you seem to be able to go outside, but at the same time you understand: you will immediately get into a paddy wagon and reset the 15 hours that you spent locked up.
Everything starts anew: waiting in a paddy wagon, police department, proceedings. Therefore, we waited to the last, our bellies rumbled like orchestras. Imagine, many ate only breakfast on Sunday, and that’s it. It was difficult. Moreover, everyone has their own psychological barrier, some came to the square with their families, their loved ones were detained, while they managed to hide. What to do? They wanted to go out and look for relatives in police departments, but they knew as soon as they came out of hiding, they would be in danger.”
Victoria is now at home and very grateful to those open-hearted people who let her in: “Thank you very much for sheltering!”
*Changes Square is one of the most famous of the courtyard protest venues in Minsk. It has a mural of two DJs who achieved cult status before the election, when they were hired for a pro-Lukashenko gathering and played the perestroika-era track Changes instead. The song has become the unofficial anthem of the Belarusian uprising. The square has been “renamed” Changes Square and attracts musicians who give concerts there.