war crimes in Ukraine

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Politics and human rights

Now and forever: KHPG Commentary on Remuneration for State Deputies

A Report by Vsevolod Rechytsky, legal expert of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group ,

Over the last few days there has been a lot of publicity over the Verkhovna Rada’s overruling of the President’s veto on the Law of Ukraine “On introducing amendments to Article 20 of the Law of Ukraine “On the status of a state deputy of Ukraine”.  The essence of the matter is that on 4 April 2006 the Ukrainian parliament, chaired by Speaker of Parliament, V. Lytvyn, passed a Law in accordance with which all former state deputies of Ukraine will have the right to join the reserve of personnel of the Central Department of the State Civil Service of Ukraine and to receive material assistance should they lose their work after the expiration of their term of office as state deputy.  According to the press, since the first vote for the Draft Law could not gain the requisite 300 votes, Speaker Lytvyn put the Draft Law to the vote a second time. As a result, out of the 370 deputies registered present, 307 people’s representatives voted for the Law.

If one discards superfluous legal formalities, the essential point is that from henceforth each former state deputy has the right before reaching retirement age to receive from State revenue compensatory monthly payments of around 2 thousand US dollars. In the reality of today’s Ukraine, this means that an unemployed ex-parliamentarian has gained the right to receive a monthly income of approximately 4 monthly payments to a current member of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences or around 6 salaries of a professor of a Ukrainian university of the highest category, or 12 – 13 salaries of a highest category doctor, or approximately 20 salaries of a highest category school teacher.

It is also worth recalling the current salaries of people’s representatives. In accordance with paragraph 2 of Article 33 of the Law of Ukraine “On the status of a state deputy of Ukraine”, a state deputy as far as material and social day to day provisions are concerned is equal to members of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine”.  This in turn means that the monthly salary of a current state deputy equals approximately 4 thousand US dollars. That is one current deputy costs the Ukrainian State as much as eight currents academicians or 12 professors or 26 surgeons or 40 secondary school teachers.  The pension for a state deputy, according to the law, fluctuates between 80- 90% of the salary current at the time received by a state deputy.

In addition, the Verkhovna Rada provides a former state deputy immediately after the expiration of his or her term of office, for the period of finding a job, with payment of material assistance amounting to the salary which working state deputies receive,  taking into consideration all supplementary and special payments, however for no longer than one year” (paragraph 5 of Article 20 of the Law).  And “on retiring a state deputy is paid financial assistance amounting to 12 monthly salaries of an official financed by budgetary allocations for provisions for the activities of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine” (Point 2 of paragraph 12 of Article 20 of the Law). Thus, on completion of their term of office, a deputy is to also receive “material” assistance (money for the period of finding another job) and before retirement – “financial” aid (money to ease the process of retirement), each of which equals his or her annual salary (48 thousand US dollars). 

If one tries some simple arithmetic, then over the five years that a state deputy holds office, he or she will have received a salary of approximately 240 thousand US dollars, to which one should add the “material” and “financial” assistance, this equalling around 96 thousand US dollars. For the moment we will not speak of the compensation payments which are currently being discussed in the press, or about the pensions.

The salary of a state deputy over five years of office thus effectively comes to around 336 thousand US dollars. Everybody also knows that “a state deputy, regardless of his or her place of residence, should s/he wish, has the right to receive once-off financial compensation for the expenses incurred in creating suitable living conditions, or for the parliamentary term official living quarters, or living quarters for permanent residence” (paragraph 1 of Article 35 of the Law).  Since a married deputy has the right to an additional separate room, the minimum amount of compensation (given the housing market in Kyiv) will not come to less than 120-150 thousand US dollars. Thus all payments together constitute approximately half a million US dollars. In view of these figures, one can understand the peeved expressions of young Ukrainian “Rastignacs” who didn’t manage this time to join the ranks of parliamentary deputies. However it remains in question whether Ukrainian voters fully understand the “material” sense of their actions. We know at least that some did not vote for “Nasha Ukraina” [“Our Ukraine”] quite simply because they didn’t want, speaking figuratively, to give the singer Ruslana or the sentimental O. Herasymyuk ten “Mercedes” each.

At this point it seems reasonable to ask how this corresponds to world practice. At first glance all seems acceptable. After all in the West too the fact that deputies receive weighty remuneration from the state is considered to provide a guarantee of their independence. A large number of constitutions even have the corresponding articles with regard to this (USA, Spain, Germany and others). In particular the twenty seventh amendment to the US Constitution stipulates that the size of parliamentary salaries may not be increased by congressmen for their own benefit. That is, any possible increase in compensation can only take effect for a mew Congress following an “election of Representatives”.  It is also typical that the level of deputy remuneration equals that of official salaries of members of the government (Austria) or of high-ranking civil servants (France).  Very often the amount is fixed at the level of 50-70% of a minister’s salary. It can moreover depend on the degree to which the deputy plays  a real role in the work of parliament (France), the deputy’s length of service, or his or her active involvement on parliamentary committees (Austria).

However this is merely the external side of the issue. The internal essence lies in the fact that deputies’ salaries in the West equal the salaries of professors of prestigious national universities.  If a professor of an American state university can received approximately 7-8 thousand, and of a private university – 8,5 – 10 thousand US dollars a month, this does not differ greatly form the salary of an American senator or rank and file congressman (their monthly salary being around 16 thousand dollars a month).  Accordingly the rector of a US state university has a salary of approximately 25-26, while the rector of a private university – 45-50 thousand dollars a month, which is not very far off that of the President of USA (around 40 thousand dollars a month).

According to the Danish politician, Hanne Severinsen, her parliamentary salary is not much larger than that of an experienced teacher or journalist in her country.  In general, the salary of a member of the European Parliament can clearly not compete with that of an accomplished neurosurgeon. In the German Bundestag the salary of a deputy is approximately the same as that of a university professor. One could continue this list however it would be better to focus on the typical pay divide.

The spread of salaries for all those who work in American state institutions is approximately 1:5.  In Europe this figure roughly equals 1:4. This means that the salary of an ordinary civil servant in the USA cannot be less than 25% of the salary of a minister. We have approximately the same situation in Western Europe where in absolute figures state salaries are obviously less than those in the USA, but where the percentage ratio between salaries remains at the same level. With regard to Ukraine, here, as is recognized by the state deputies themselves, the spread of salaries between those who are paid from state revenue equals 1:40.  This is indeed the case since the average Ukrainian teacher in a state school receives a monthly salary of around 100 US dollars, while a state deputy receives 4 thousand dollars. By dividing the second into the first, we obtain the nationwide salary range of 1:40.

One should also note that in Western Europe and USA the level of salaries for high-ranking state officials is not and cannot be concealed from the concerned public[1].  In the USA this is guaranteed by the 1966 “On Freedom of Information Act”, and in part by the subsequent 1976 Government in the Sunshine Act.  In Western Europe the Judgements of the European Commission and the European Court of Human Rights stand guard over open access to such information. In Ukraine, on the other hand, it is futile to try to find out from official sources the size of the salaries of, for example, judges of the Constitutional or Supreme Court of Ukraine. Even after the Orange Revolution the salaries of members of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine were increased privately (the corresponding governmental document being classified with a stamp restricting access).  The author of this article was at one stage present when one of the former judges of the Constitutional Court in an ironic tone told his colleagues from the Latvian Constitutional Court about our inept journalists and how they had not succeeded in finding out the actual size of judges’ salaries in the Constitutional Court.  However a deeper irony lay in the fact that a) their Latvian colleagues could not understand why this should be a secret; b) their own salaries at that time were approximately five times higher than those of their Ukrainian colleagues; c) they were proud that they had succeeded in averting the privatization of flats in the old quarters of Riga by higher government officials (among whom was Raimond Pauls).  The example demonstrates how even after the collapse of the USSR the Ukrainian judge without realizing it reflected a certain form of thinking: two worlds – two systems.

Almost ten years have elapsed since then. However the salaries of judges of the Supreme Court or of the Constitutional Court remain concealed from Ukrainian journalists.  There is talk that at present these come to around 10-11 thousand US dollars a month. When Constitutional Court judges, at the end of their term of office, retire, they immediately receive not a pension, but “state maintenance” equalling 80% of the pecuniary compensation and other types of financial provision of a judge of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine currently in office (paragraph  2 of Article 29 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Constitutional Court of Ukraine”).  In effect a judge of this rank will live for the rest of his or her life on maintenance or a pension which equal approximate 10 thousand US dollars a month.

Of course counting other people’s money is not the most noble of activities. It is similarly ignoble to stick labels on Ukrainian people’s representatives or other high-ranking state officials. Still more so given that they themselves sometimes speak critically of themselves. As one of my colleagues admitted who presently, in addition to his 450 dollars a month as a university professor, also receives 3,5 thousand dollars pension as an ex-deputy, “I didn’t do it with my own hands”. It seems that it was the Ukrainian state that did it for its loyal and grateful sons and daughters.  As a result of this, we have in the country the predictable situation where the contrast between state and the public is not only failing to disappear, but is beginning even more marked.  It would be insufficient to say that state deputies behave selfishly. The worst is that in actual fact they behave in a treacherous fashion. W. Chamberlain once wrote in a small work entitled “Ukraine – a subjugated nation” that the Ukrainian people were permanently betrayed by the national elite. However Chamberlain was writing about how the elite betrayed its people in times where there was no political freedom, whereas now we see that the elite continues to morally betray it in conditions of sovereign statehood.

Observing how unfailingly the “grabbing instinct” functions within the corridors of power, one cannot help but wonder why Russia has not bought up our people’s representatives with their oil dollars. After all, if 2 thousand US dollars is how much a deputy’s conscience is worth, then for 5 thousand one can risk buying up a deputy’s powers of reason. Ukrainian deputies at the price of eight professors to one … Quite recently Y. Kushnaryov stated in a television broadcast that no constitution in the world stipulates the right of the people to revolution, while A. Matviyenko, also on television, said that the majority of federations are created on the basis of national identity. In fact the majority of federations have nothing to do with national characteristics, and the institution of a people’s uprising is a classical element of world constitutional culture (this right in various forms is enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, Article 20 of the 1949 German Constitution, Article 120 of the Constitution of Greece from 1975, Article 32 of the 1991 Slovakian Constitution, Article 54 of the 1992 Estonian Constitution and Article 3 of the 1992 Lithuanian Constitution).

It is deeply regrettable that even after the election of the genuinely democratically figure of Viktor Yushchenko as President of Ukraine, even after the Orange Revolution,  a real revolt of the rich against the poor continues to unfold and intensify in Ukraine, in the apparently respectable form of the constitutional reforms. It is clear that calling our deputies “rich” is much less about being offensive than about resorting to flattery. The truly rich after all do not lunge at money like a dog at a bone.  The pathological love of our people’s representatives for “remuneration”, “compensation” and “assistance” is rather evidence of their former roots in poverty. This is the usual behaviour of people who most definitely did not grow up in a palace.  Yet again you can see a lord by such things. Oscar Wilde once wrote that there is only one class of people greedier than the rich and that is the poor. Ukrainian deputies are not bothered by their image, but they can’t turn down “bad money”. Yet would it be possible for a people’s representative for whom poverty has been genetically inbred to behave in any other way?

At the end of the day, what happened in the last few days could be ignored. However one cannot fail to note yet another example of the infantile nature of the Ukrainian national parliamentary system.  Childish instincts in politics are not just a weakness, but a real risk and danger for the people. And Ukrainians may in the very near future experience that directly. Having violated all conceivable procedures and rules, having trampled on the principles of their own Constitution, the state deputies led by Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn “re-welded” a presidential parliamentary Ukraine into a parliamentary presidential setup. Now it is this ill-fated mechanism which is supported to move us towards Europe..

The Ukrainian parliamentary vote is somewhat reminiscent of a child’s competition for sweets. With something over their eyes, the kiddies try to get the sweets which for the game have been hung before them on thin strings. And among the children there are a few adults. Some, like Oleksandr Moroz, have genuinely joined the game and can already feel the taste of sugar in their mouth, while others, like V. Lytvyn, more distanced and clever, correct and direct the chaotic hurtling of the little ones towards a well-camouflaged abyss.


[1]  The data, for example, given in this article were simply taken from the Internet

[1]  The data, for example, given in this article were simply taken from the Internet

Against torture and ill-treatment

Open letter regarding conditions in Ukrainian penal institutions

To:  I G F M – Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte

International Society for Human Rights

International Society for Human Rights – Ukrainian section

Autonomous member of the ISHR-US Gennady Zherdev

The European Court – to Pavel Pushkar – dossier No. 7484/06;

The European Court – Sally Dole – dossiers Nos. 17674/02, 39081/02;

To President of Ukraine Yushchenko;

State Department on Penal Issues – to the Head V. Koshchinets;

To human rights activists and the mass media


Dear Sir or Madam

I have received from the State Penal Department (hereafter the Department) letter No. 3/4-Ж-1136 of 11 April 2006 signed “Department Head O. Kislov”. I think that this letter is most probably connected with the claims now under review by the European Court of Human Rights (7484/06 Bulavko and Others v. Ukraіne; 17674/02 and 39081/02 Druzenko and Others, Davydov and Others v. Ukraіne) and is aimed at discrediting myself and the claimants.

Firstly, I would note that this letter, like all letters from the Department, the Prosecutor General’s office and Secretariat of the President of Ukraine, is written by uneducated and ill-mannered people. I say this as a person who moved from being a metalworker to the main technologist of a ministry, who has worked both in state administration and on the post of chief state inspector of Ukraine.

1. As usual, there is no explanation in the letter from the State Department, which request they mean. There have been many requests. Why can’t you mention the date of the letter you are responding to? Is it so difficult? This question is addressed to all state organs, including the President’s office. You are working badly!

2. The letter from the Department begins with the address: “citizen”, as if to somebody being arrested. Should I then answer “To citizen V. Koshchinets”?

3. As usual, stock phrases are used: “the information does not correspond with the facts”, “illegal actions and biased attitude of the administration to prisoners were not found”, etc. Which information? What actions and of what administration were considered? Does O. Kislov know? This “information” of the Department also does not give the opportunity to understand which of my requests they’re answering.

And then the most interesting part begins, which is probably intended for the European Court. In this part the authors try to demonstrate to the European Court that all claimants, as well as Zherdev, are lying, and the European Court should trust only the Department which insists that the appropriate checks have been carried out and there are no violations.

In particular, this is reflected in the following phrase: “It should be noted that your letters contain absolutely one-sided information, which you obtain from prisoners’ letters. Furthermore, you, a human rights activist, have not taken measures to check this information and never met with prisoners and administration of penal institutions”.

So, I would like to state to the European Court (Kislov and the Department know that): this is a lie!

1. I obtain information not only from letters of prisoners, and this information is not one-sided. Maybe the Department is eager to learn the names of my informants? I, for example, know that scandal is raging in the central apparatus of the State Department, and its workers are grassing on each other as they do in penal zones. Is that not so, Mr. (Oh, sorry! citizen) Koshchinets?

2. My information from prisoners is confirmed by various, unrelated, sources in many media outlets. I also have information about the situation in penal establishments, and this information is got not only from prisoners.

3. There is official data from many Ukrainian and foreign, state and non-governmental organizations, including human rights ones: reports by Nina Karpacheva, the European Committee for Prevention of Torture, OSCE and many others. Not only me, but also the Department knows about these numerous documents. They coincide with the letters from prisoners. Or would the Department want to say that these respected people and organizations are also lying?

4. I also have evidence of relatives of prisoners, who have seen them beaten and maimed. I know of cases when, in order to conceal the traces of torture, relatives are not allowed to see the prisoners. There are results of medical examinations of people released and people still in custody. Sometimes medical cards with such data are “lost”. For instance, the card of claimant Sergey Davydov “disappeared” during his transfer from one penal zone to another. All documents were there except the medical card with doctor’s notes after torture applied by officers of a special police squad!

Here is a simple example. The mother of Aleksandr, a prisoner of TB-zone No. ZhYK-17 in the Kharkiv region, approached me. He was brutally beaten with injuries to his feet and legs. There was a threat of gangrene and that his legs would have to be amputated. Aleksandr needed long and complicated treatment. Yet the humiliations lasted.  His mother received permission to see her son, naturally, through glass. When the operator went to switch on the phone, Aleksandr quickly lifted his trouser-legs, and the mother saw his legs black and blue from beating. Aleksandr gave a sign to be silent. So, the woman made sure personally of the frequent beatings that she’d heard about from different people.

This is only one example how I receive information from prisoners’ parents. They are afraid to make this information public, they fear for the lives of their children. They know that beasts work in the Department; that penal institutions resemble Gestapo torture chambers, and that prosecutors and judges are monsters too. So who should parents complain to about these fascist butchers? Who will protect them? Maybe President Yushchenko, who has become a defender of the Department? That is why the parents are afraid to divulge the names of their children. They have seen the results of revenge upon those who dared to give their names. There is no protection in Ukraine, ruled by impudent and brutal officials! IT DOES NOT EXIST!

5. Former prisoners visited me for many times and told about the life in penal establishments. So, it is not true that I “never met with prisoners”.

6. I have also made attempts to meet the prisoners in zones, to talk to penal administrations. On several occasions I visited Buchanskaya zone No. 85. Nobody wanted to speak with me. The first time I was stopped from seeing claimant Sergey Davydov while the next time they simply “couldn’t locate him”! Representatives of the administration answered that they did not know whether such a prisoner was kept in zone No. 85! So, is there any sense in such visits?

Or maybe the Department will deny the fairly frequent visits by special squads to penal institutions to beat up the inmates? Such cases were observed in establishments Nos. 47, 50, 53 and 83. The beating was extremely brutal. On 15 April 2006 I sent letters to 30 e-mail addresses, including the media, about the actions of a special squad in colony No. 47 on 14 April 2006. On 16 April 2006 the zone was besieged by journalists and parents of prisoners. As a result, the administration had to release from isolation cells many prisoners, who’d been put there after the beating.

However, respected judges of the European Court, you know the real value of words of officials of the Department. They are lying! You also know about the reports of international commissions on situation in our penitentiaries. Former incarcerated come to me after release, I receive many phone calls from the entire Ukraine, I meet with prisoners’ relatives. On this background the letter by the Department seems to be somewhat foolish and childly naïve. Or maybe they have become absolutely insolent because of impunity? Because they feel the support of President Yushchenko?

If you want to prove that I am not right, gentlemen from the Department, then act as you promise in your letter: help to organize meetings with the convicted. I agree. I will gather several groups of human rights protectors, journalists, cameramen, medics and lawyers. And these several groups (together with me) will visit several penal establishments. The establishments that we will choose by ourselves. We will announce about our choice only after arrival to the place. We will meet with whom we want, but not with “dummies”, like Karpacheva. And not through glass by phone, but entering the cells that we will select (including penal cells). The talks and telephotography will be carried out both in presence of representatives of administration of penitentiaries and tête-à-tête with the prisoners. I ask to organize the meetings with groups of incarcerated in presence of administration and some workers of penal establishments. I would be happy, if supervising prosecutors would join us. We will listen and record everything, what the prisoners will say to them. And do not rely on the usual procedure of intimidation described, in particular, by the prisoners of TB-colony No. ЖИК-17:

“2-3 days before the arrival of a prosecutor the officers gathered unit No. 15 and warned: “You dare! The prosecutor will go away, and you will remain and you will croak!” Naturally, the prosecutor did not reveal any violations”.

If you are so honest, as you write, and you have nothing to conceal, then it would not be difficult for you to fulfill your promise on my terms.

Since this letter will be published in mass media and the Internet, I announce the “competition” for participation in the meetings with incarcerated, which have been kindly proposed by the Department. I am inviting human rights protectors, lawyers, journalists, cameramen and medics for participation in this action.

Besides, I appeal to the prisoners reading this letter to offer penal establishments and persons for this “competition”.

Contact me by the mentioned phone number, e-mail and cellular phone 8(067)232-88-45 (it would be better to send an SMS, since my hearing is not good). I prefer communication by e-mail. I will inform you about the wish of the Department to help us, as well as about other organizational questions. I also will accept your propositions concerning organization.

Besides, I appeal to the European Court: do not trust the letters of the Department!

Yours sincerely,

Gennady Zherdev

Enclosure to the letter of G. Zherdev of 29 April 2006:

Excerpt from an appeal from Sergey Gomeniuk to the General prosecutor’s office (European Court dossier No. 17674/02, Druzenko and Others).

I, Sergey Gomeniuk, confirm in this appeal that the claim by G. Zherdev concerning violation of my right to correspondence is a real fact. During January of this year four my letters were not received by him. In February there were 3 such letters, in March – 2…

When will you, prosecutor’s office, stop lying that you cannot find any violations? When will you at last force the administrations of penal zones and the Department to cease brutal beatings and humiliation of prisoners? Special squads have come to zone No. 47 three times now – on 29 September 2005, 16 January 2006 and 14 April 2006.

I, Gennady Zherdev, want to add to Gomeniuk’s words about the violation of his right to correspondence that, in spite of my numerous requests, the Department has not called off a blockade of prisoners’ correspondence with me, but even toughened it. EVERYBODY, who has managed to evade this blockade in illegal ways, complains about that. Sometimes my registered letters are not given to the inmates, for example in zone No. 18 of the Luhansk region.

I also want to point out that, according to Law of Ukraine No. 3166-IV of 1 December 2005 and the corresponding order of the Department of 25 January 2006 (it approved the Instruction on revision of correspondence, registered by the Ministry of Justice on 11 April 2006), those convicted have the right to send me correspondence in sealed envelopes, and this correspondence must be directed to me without being read within one day. Yet, the prisoners cannot use this right, except in some cases in penal establishments Nos. 70 and 52.  Officers of all other penitentiaries say that they know nothing about this Law and this order. Moreover, they allege that they do not know me, although the letters with my name are monitored specially and are mostly seized. Even Karpacheva does not frighten them so much, although her authorities are considerably wider.

Scandalous cases occur. On 3 April 2006 convict of zone No. 70 Viktor Bulavko (dossier of the European Court No. 7484/06) sent me documents in the closed envelope for passing to the European Court. I did not receive this package. This was the second theft by administration of this colony of documents for the European Court from claimant Bulavko. I am sure that these documents are kept in the Department. The Department gave the order to steal the documents for the European Court, since these documents contained the information about crimes of the Department.

Claimant Ichenko (dossier of the European Court No. 39081/02) cannot send me the materials for the European Court from colony No. 52. He is blocked completely. Sometimes, after my letters, he manages to mail one or two letters, but after that he is blocked again for many months.


Complaint of a group of prisoners of zone No. 47 to President of Ukraine and to human rights organizations

Respected human rights activists!

Specially for you I will describe everything in details, and you will make a conclusion, whether I am right calling the actions of the Lviv department fascist and cruel.

On 29 September 2005 and 14 April 2006 our colony No. 47 was visited by a special unit in full equipment: black masks, flak jackets, batons, handcuffs, tear-gas, etc.

This special squad, including about 60 persons, was headed by top officers of the Lviv department. These “warriors” opened the cells and cried “Lie down on the floor!” When we lay down, they started to trample us, kick and beat us with batons on bodies and heads. Then they raised us one at a time and ordered to run along the passage between two rows of soldiers. And while we were running along the passage, they were beating us with batons, after which somebody was made to squat, and somebody – to make the splits.

Although we fulfilled all orders, they sometimes hit us on backs, legs and sometimes even heads. Yet, it seemed not enough for them, and they forced us to crawl or make difficult gymnastic exercises. If somebody refused, they brutally beat him and threw to punishment cell. Some prisoners were made to dig earth barehanded and to gnaw ropes.

Several people, including me, cut their veins in order to avoid this humiliation. Yet, we were beaten even more cruelly and flung to punishment cells. This was done despite the fact that many of us lost much blood and needed medical aid. However, instead of aid, we got another portion of beating. At that, it was written that we, allegedly, resisted to a search.

Yet, it is not all.

While one part of the “warriors” was beating us, the rest conducted the so-called “search” in cells, during which they arranged terrible chaos and did their best to spoil maximal quantity of things and food. Although we may keep in the cells calendars and posters with landscapes, they were torn to tatters, as well as posters with portraits Yulia Timoshenko and Yushchenko.

Besides, many things were stolen: watches, socks, cigarettes, lighters, chewing-gums, spam and so on. In short, they did everything they could. Even our bowls, spoons and mugs were either broken or stolen. Photographs and clothes were also torn.

As you understand, it is merely impossible to describe everything we suffered. Yet, it is clear all the same that fascist and cruel methods were used. If, of course, to reason from human point of view, but not from the standpoint of President Yushchenko, his clique, government and General prosecutor’s office.

If some people’s deputy is beaten, clamor is raised for the whole world. Because the deputy has money. However, when hundreds of prisoners are beaten, it is normal for the President and government, they do not see any crime, although, according to the Constitution, the incarcerated have the same rights.

This is not idle talk, but plain truth. Although such crimes are committed regularly during many years, not a single worker of the Department has been brought to criminal responsibility.

Let us recollect presidential election-2004. Officers of the Department beat us repeatedly in order to force us to vote for Yanukovich. Was anybody of them punished? NOBODY! All of them are still working on their jobs, somebody has been even promoted, and they continue to beat and humiliate us.

Whether the horror will ever end? I was punished because I voted for Yushchenko, but not for Yanukovich, as administration of the colony demanded. However, Yushchenko and his government neglect this situation, although it is rather usual.

I ask you, on behalf of all incarcerated: take the measures to stop cruel and motiveless beatings ands humiliations! Stop this arbitrariness! And explain to world community, how laws are observed in Ukrainian penal establishments.

Prisoner Gomeniuk, signature

20 April 2006


We, the undersigned, confirm everything communicated by Gomeniuk – signatures of prisoners B. Vlasov, O. Usovik, A. Khivrenko.


Fragment from Gomeniuk’s letter to G. Zherdev:

“Now many prisoners want to sign the complaint. Yet, we will not collect many signatures, or everything would happen like in Iziaslav: commission for check of the complaint would come, prisoners would be intimidated and they would deny their signatures. That is why only we signed the complaint, and others will confirm in case of a check”.

Along with this complaint I, G. Zherdev, have several other similar complaints from incarcerated of colony No. 47 signed by several persons each. I am sending them to state organs and human rights protecting organizations, although I understand that state organs will not react. They are organizers of these disgraceful things! My goal is to inform the world community about this crying shame.

Moreover, I have got phone calls from relatives of prisoners not only of colony No. 47, but also colonies Nos. 50, 53 and 83. They tell that in other colonies situation is the same.

Sincerely yours, Gennady Zherdev

29 April 2006


Access to information

New rules to protect certain kinds of information

The Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers, No. 373, was passed on 29 March.  The rules govern the general requirements for ensuring the protection of information which is the property of the state or information on restricted access.

At the same time the rules do not apply for the protection of information in systems of government or special types of communication. The Resolution regulates in particular the protection of open information which is the property of the state and gives statistical, legal or sociological information used to enable the activities of state bodies. It also protects information about the activities of state bodies which is published on the Internet. Confidential information which is the property of the state, and information constituting a state secret or other type of secret foreseen by the law are also subject to protection.

According to these rules, open information when being processed in the system must be retained in full with protection provided against unauthorized modification or deletion. At the same time all users may have access to read the information.

When processing confidential or secret information, the information must be protected from unauthorized reading, modification, deletion, copying or distribution. Access to such information is given to identified users.

The rules also dictate that the identification of users, the granting or withdraw of the right of access to information and its processing shall be carried out by automated means. The transfer of confidential and secret information from one system to another is undertaken in coded form or through protected channels of communication.

A comprehensive system of information protection is created in order to avert any leaks of information via technical channels; unauthorized actions with the information, including the use of computer viruses; to ensure protection against special influence on the means of processing information.

The rules were drawn up in compliance with the Law “On the protection of information in information and teecommunications systems” passed by the Verkhovna Rada in 1994.

Material provided by Roman Romanov

Environmental rights

Somebody had to come out first on Maidan

On this day 20 years ago the Fourth Reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. And exactly 18 years ago, in Kyiv, an event took place which was directly related both to the Chernobyl Disaster, and to what was to take place in the near future – the move to independence of the country, the appearance in it of a civic society and free press, and in the final analysis to “Maidan” whose spirit is invoked so willingly by today’s politicians.
18 years ago, over fifty members of the Ukrainsky kulturolohychny klub [The Ukrainian Cultural Studies Club] came out onto Kyiv’s October Square, now called Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square].
Readers, take note, this was Soviet Kyiv with its traditionally specific political regime where the Kremlin’s local protégés eagerly copied everything bad that happened in the “union centre”, but were highly disinclined to echo any positive moves.
It was in Moscow that in the spring of 1988 perestroika was flourishing. And when the orthodox communist, Nina Andreyeva, prompted by several members of the Politburo, published her article “I cannot compromise my principles”, all that was vibrant and honest rose in defence of the so recently gained, if not full, then at least semi-freedom of speech.
In Kyiv the seemingly eternal Volodymyr Vasylyovych Shcherbytsky reigned on. One was allowed, as before, to write about “isolated shortcomings”. It sounds like a joke, but is true that when the rock group “Mashina vremeni” [“Time machine”] came to Kyiv, certain questions of the journalist in the long television interview with the group’s leader, Andrei Makarevich, were read by another voice. At the last minute the management decided to change the excessively radical journalist utterances, and the interviewer himself presumably could not be found.
Literary magazines had begun on a small scale to print studies on the crisis in national culture and the works of literary figures from the times of the "Rozstriliane Vidrodzhennia" [Executed Renaissance] . Admittedly, at that stage it was those figures who had at least given the appearance of agreeing with communist ideas. “Bourgeois nationalists” from past days remained on the list of those who could only be mentioned in abusive terms.
However changes were still taking place: modern “nationalists” were no longer being sent to Mordova and Siberia. I use the term “nationalist” in inverted commas since this category at the time included real nationalists, Ukrainian chauvinists, social democrats, liberals, and even those communists who wanted to live “by Lenin’s principles”.
They were “only” thrown out of their jobs, beaten up, flung behind bars for 15 days. However even such a let up was sufficient to plant the real seeds of what we nowadays call a civic society, with the appearance of the Ukrainian Cultural Studies Club.
This was a public and legal organization, although one not registered by the authorities. The latter vehemently opposed the Club in the columns of the Party press, supported actively by “the workers”.
It was in this atmosphere that the activists of the Ukrainian Cultural Studies Club, created in 1987 as an “informal” association, with a core of several dozen dissidents and recent political prisoners of different ages, decided to mark the second anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster with a demonstration in the centre of Kyiv.
We will not go into all the details of this demonstration, which have been described in the recollections of Inna Naboka “How we came out onto our Maidan” (at: – in Ukrainian) “Ukrainska Pravda” also in fact wrote about the demonstration when Vakhtang Kipiani mentioned Serhiy Naboka who was not only the Chairperson of the Club and one of the initiators of the demonstrators, but had also managed to be born on just that date. In that year, Naboka turned 33. He marked his birthday with true honour, on Maidan and then – behind bars in the district station of the Soviet police.
However here I wish to talk about something else: about unrecognized courage and about medal-gilded baseness. Both Inna Naboka and others participants in the demonstration mention that when the arrests of demonstrators began, Serhiy’s mother, the journalist Kateryna Zelenska, rushed to the Union of Writers. Just at that time they were holding some kind of meeting or conference on Chernobyl. She burst onto the stage, calling for help, saying that they were seizing their children.
Kateryna Zelenska hoped that the prominent Ukrainian Soviet writers really were the conscience of the nation and that they would not be able to look on with indifference either at the legacy of Chernobyl or the regime’s arbitrary despotism. All the more so since a public condemnation, if for example, ten or twenty of the laureates and bearers of state honours just nipped down for 10 minutes to October Square, could not do the writers any particular harm.
Of course, somebody might have had their next book’s publication delayed by a year. Or they might not have been allowed to publish anything in the press for a time. They could have been published in that case in Moscow where such prohibitions had already, essentially, stopped working.
Instead this “conscience” huffed and puffed for a bit in the hall of the writers’ building and that was it. However there were foreign correspondents present and probably it was specifically their presence that stopped the authorities from unleashing large-scale repressive measures against the participants in the demonstration.
… Yes, they were the first. We deliberately refrain from naming particular individuals who participated in the demonstration since the decision was taken jointly, and those who came out onto Maidan now only mention Serhiy Naboka – because he was the Chairperson of the Club and because he has not been with us for three years now. Perhaps if there is a need to specify who took part, it is better that they do so. We are considering here whether society remembers, and especially that specific part, those in power in independent Ukraine, that not so very distant demonstration.
...And already in that same year, in the autumn of 1988, the first legal rally in Kyiv under environmental banners on the square in front of the Republican stadium gathered more than 40 thousand Kyivans. A few months earlier one of the favourite chants at political rallies had become the slogan: “Long live the Communist Party of the USSR – at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant!”
However this political rally; and the founding of the Society for the Ukrainian Language; and the emergence of RUKH [the Popular Movement of Ukraine]; and the student hunger strikes; the declaration of independence; “Ukraine without Kuchma” and Orange Maidan – all of that came later.
But somebody was needed then, 18 years ago, when it was still unclear how events would unfold, to create that “later”.
The participants in that demonstration, aside from one who was to become a state deputy in the first Verkhovna Rada have not taken high-ranking positions in independent Ukraine. Such positions were filled largely by those who were indifferent to or against the demonstrators. However even that is not so terrible.
Most important is that it would seem that the fact that such a demonstration on 26 April 1988 took place has simply been forgotten, along with those who created a civic society and laid the foundations for independence. In this we have the “specific feature” of national history and the “forgetfulness” of those at the top.
Serhiy Hrabovsky, Deputy Chief Editor of the journal “Suchasnist”

NGO activities

Historical "déjà vu"

Recently historical "déjà vu" seems to have captured the imagination of our northern neighbors and some our compatriots.

A year ago they wanted to erect Stalin’s monument in Sevastopol. One can guess the reaction of Crimean Tatars to this action! Thank God, they failed.

Now it is planned to create a Pantheon (!) to the “Great leader and teacher of all people” in the Turukhanskiy district of the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Just in the district, where hundreds of thousands of victims of this cannibal perished! The local authorities want to revive tourism in that way. This is a very “clever” cultural action! It is strange that the nation, instead of feeling repentance for their obvious historical guilt, as was the case, for example, in Germany, returns to the open tendency to turn its historical disgrace into historical victory. Why does this happen? Is it due to their victory over fascist Germany? Yes, the Soviet people managed to do that in spite of the inept actions of its leaders. However, as the famous Russian writer Viktor Astafyev remarked, “We did not defeat Germany -we drenched it in our blood and stifled it with our bodies”.

What else was done by this monster of all times and peoples? For instance, he starved to death eight million Ukrainian peasants (even now our villages feel consequences of his “paternal” care). He exterminated the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Not only the Ukrainian, but all the more or less independent intelligentsia of peoples subjugated to the Russian empire. However Ukrainian, in the first instance..

So, why has this monster again attracted the positive attention of the Russian community? It can be explained only by an imperialist complex. Any empire following its collapse resembles a sexual maniac, who wants to murder again and again because of his inferiority complex. Such empires wage absolutely unnecessary wars, quarrel with their closest neighbors, with whom it is profitable to be in peace, and glorify the embodiments of their complexes, like Stalin or Ivan the Terrible – miscreants and monsters  who have already been condemned by history.

The process taking place of late in Russia not only worries, but rouses revulsion and indignation. The attempt to create a Pantheon to the leader and teacher can be related just to such processes.

Relatives of Katyń victims plan to take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights

Relatives of Polish Officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet security service during the Second World War intend to file a claim against Russian in the European Court of Human Rights. The BBC quotes the relatives’ lawyer who says that the case will be lodged within the next few weeks.

The relatives of 70 of the 22 thousand victims taken as prisoners of war and murdered on the territory of Ukraine and Russia are planning to file suits.

They decided to turn to Strasbourg after the investigation in Russia did not result in any of the culprits of the crime being punished. Their lawyer noted that the Russian authorities had violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by not carrying out a proper investigation, despite the fact that the case had been investigated for 14 years before being terminated in September 2004.

As reported earlier, in March of this year the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation refused to acknowledge the Polish officers shot in Katyń as victims of political repression. A copy of the letter to this effect was passed to our correspondent by the Polish Embassy in Moscow.

The Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office justified their refusal by claiming that there was no evidence that the Polish nationals had been sentenced on political grounds. Wiold Kulesza, Head of the Investigation Department of Instytut Pamięci Narodowej [The Institute of National Remembrance], adds that the Prosecutor’s office also refuses to acknowledge that the Poles murdered at Katyń on Stalin’s orders were charged under the Soviet Criminal Code. The Prosecutor’s statement is in response to a letter from the widow of one of the officers who died at Katyń. She demanded that her murdered husband be recognized as a victim of political repression on the basis of the Russian Law “On the rehabilitation of victims of political repression”. At the present time, several dozen Polish families are seeking recognition of the fact that their relatives were victims of political repression.

In 2005 the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office refused to recognize the Katyń Massacre as genocide of the Polish people. “The case was closed as a war crime committed by officials and connected with their exceeding their duties”, the Chief Military Prosecutor, Aleksandr Savinkov, then stated. “There was no genocide. I am not going to get into a discussion on this subject.”

Approximately 2 million Poles were deported to the USSR after the Red Army invaded the eastern part of the country at the beginning of World War II. In spring 1940, around 22 thousand officers, doctors, priests being held in captivity disappeared. They were shot by the NKVD on Stalin’s orders.

German soldiers discovered one of the mass graves in the forest outside Katyń, near Smolensk, in 1943. The Soviet authorities then declared that the murders had been carried out by the Nazis. Moscow refused to acknowledge its responsibility for the mass killings right up till 1989.


19 March


I’ll be brief as I don’t have any time. I sat at the polling station observing all day. Yesterday on the voter lists for my polling stations there were 1925 people.

This morning there were already 2122.

This evening, before the vote count, there were 2251.  How could a polling station “grow” by 225 people?

The electoral committee I got was fine, I won’t deny it, and they let me observe the counting of votes. My eyesight’s good and so I saw how they spread out the ballot papers on the nearer end of the table. Twice I caught a person “red-handed” placing ballot papers voting for Kozulin in the pile of papers for Lukashenko.

The result of the early voting and the voting on the day of the elections were radically different. I remember almost all the figures because I read the protocol more than once (incidentally it was actually signed, which was a rarity!)  Overall, on the day of the elections Milinkevich got 350 votes, Lukashenko – 540, Kozulin – 73.  There were 107 ballot papers “against everybody”, and 22 spoiled papers. And then compare that with the outcome of the early voting: Milinkevich – 25 votes, Lukashenko – 355, Kozulin – 26.  And three votes “against everyone”. I DO NOT BELIEVE that the results could be so different. Even more so that it was not only elderly Lukashenko supporters who voted early. The largest percentage of early votes came from hostels – it’s obvious why.

On 19 March, after observing, we ended up at the rally on October Square towards the very end, at half past ten. As Asya put it, “the regime’s conned the people yet again”: no water cannons, no rows of special force officers, no stink bombs. Hell, none of those things were needed. The most effective weapon of the present regime is fear. And it knows how to use it. The people were frightened long before the nineteenth. They were scared by the declarations of the security services about the latest “covered” bases for training fighters. Scared by the idiotic rumours about Georgian terrorists supposedly planning to blow up four schools in Minsk (and, by the way, they were also supposed to be pouring poisoning into the water system). The mother of somebody I know simply locked the guy in the flat and wouldn’t let him go to the rally. In general there were about 10 thousand people at most there. They stood a bit, a bit more then headed towards Victory Square, and from then went home.

But I’ll go again tomorrow.


20 – 21 March



I’m writing this on 22 March at 0.48. Over the last 24 hours I’ve had a total of two hours sleep. An hour and a half ago they let me out of the police station. I still don’t know where my brother is. He was taking food to the people on the square. 

Maybe they’re still all there, on October Square, forming a circle, shoulder to shoulder around the small tent city to protect it with their bodies. It’s ten degrees below zero in Minsk. There won’t be any help arriving, nobody’s going to break through the row of cops and KGB officers in civilian clothes blocking all ways onto or out of the square. Nobody will be able to take them hot tea or sleeping bags. I found that out for myself a couple of hours ago. A lot of them have been there for more than 15 hours already. Soon the freezing temperatures alone will begin to break them. The latest “elegant victory” of the regime.

During these two days I feel as if I’ve grown 10 years older. These days have been so full and have perhaps changed my life more than I can even imagine right now.

During these days I have learned what it means to OVERCOME Fear, what it means to LOVE, and what it means to HATE. And how it feels when your whole life is in upheaval. Some of what I’ve learned and felt, I will never, but NEVER be able to forget. And there are some things I will never be able to forgive.

However long I live, these memories will stay with me. They have probably been the most earth-shaking experiences of my entire life.

It was deep blue, the sort of blue I’d never seen before. In my dying moments I will try to remember that incredible blue sky over October Square in Minsk. It was in the evening on 20 March, when our Belarusian Maidan began.

Already now torrents of lies are being poured over those who took part in the tent city. It was supposedly all planned in advance, and that it’s all drugged-up, smoked-out total scum. The authorities even name the amount that we were supposedly paid. What is really upsetting is that even many Russian media outlets take the same line. For me personally that’s like getting a knife in the back from a person you thought was your friend.

Here I am going to write the truth and only the truth. You can regard it as the most accurate information. I was among the first ten people who under the glare of the television crews and flash of cameras began erecting tents. It turned out that way.  Now I face prison whatever, and I’m not going to get off with 15 days. But however it all ends, I don’t regret my decision.

And so, the sky over October Square: on that day, 20 March, when 10 thousand people gathered there, it was clear and dark blue, touched by the first, flickering light from the stars. Aleksandr Milinkevich, standing on the steps of the Palace of Trade Unions, his words resounding through the loudspeaker that the elections had been illegal, that pressure had been used at polling stations, that there had been mass-scale vote rigging. Then they turned on music, and the entire square was filled with the sorrowful and austere Oginsky Polonaise “Parting with the Homeland”  We sang along, quietly and solemnly as though it were an anthem. It was then that something burst inside. Choked with sobs, I raised my head, gazing through a blur of tears at the vast sky above, and listened to words as though written for us:


Parting at the wide expanses of the country,

Our chosen path wounds thought,

The heart yearns for its native home

And the familiar image comes to life like a troubled wound.


Once again,

Our standard flares,

A fire will blaze in the night

And with the marching pipes

Our country will again call you and I to brave battle,
our only country

For it in exile

The road of return,

The road of struggle


It was not a song along, but a call and a plea.  And we did not betray it.

After the song people said some other things there on the steps. However the main events took place not there, but in the very thick of the gathering of people. When they suddenly moved back, freeing space, and on the asphalt the first tents appeared. Among them was mine.  5 people started putting them up. I didn’t manage to get there – from out of the crowd some hefty guys with fat, expressionless faces and in black woolly hats shot out. They began frenziedly trampling the tents, breaking the poles, grabbing and carrying away sleeping bags and tents, and aiming blows at those erecting the tents. Their actions were coordinated and professional. People managed to grab some things back, but most of the stuff was taken away. Fortunately it was only the first batch. After that the people around us simply formed a human shield.  They stood close, arm in arm and didn’t let anyone through. Those who tried to push their way through were elbowed out. And there were a lot of provocateurs, KGB men in plain clothes, a hell of a lot. They stood around us, herded together. And some attached our badges “Za svabodu!” [“For Freedom!”] and tried to quietly slip through the cordon. And there, with our human cordon, we erected our tents. I vividly remember the moment when I stood in that human cordon, wondering whether to pass inside, and I heard my friend Svetka call me – she was already there, working. I didn’t feel any particular emotions right then. I simply crossed over and took a pole, helping to put up one of the tents. The shock hit later.  At first I tried to hide my face in my hood because there were a huge number of video and camera lights aiming straight into my eyes. Then I decided that that was some kind of half-measure and that there was no sense in stopping there. And I removed my hood.

We put up the tents, spread out ground sheets and sat on them.  It was then that I began trembling.  The realization penetrated of WHAT we had done. And of the fact that all my previous life, quite possibly, in that very moment was slipping like sand through my fingers. Everything!  Both the intellectual games and the children’s club that had given me so much pleasure for years were over  And my comfortable existence, and work in my scientific journal editorial office, and my friends, books, my parents.  And my beloved Minsk. And, perhaps, Belarus … Maybe also freedom.

I tried then to hide my tears under my hood so that the journalists wouldn’t see them. Not a good sight, when a person is trembling and shuddering from tears.

Then I calmed down: what was done was done. There was no way back. And after all, was it worth reading so many good books in childhood, and listening to so many great songs in order to then stand back in life, “not involved”?

There was only one thing left to do and I did it then. I rang the person I have loved for the last two years and told him so.

I had wanted to for a long time, but had not been able to summon up the courage. And now there was nothing left to fear.


PART 2  “THE WONDERFUL FAR OFF WORLD”  and this and that about lies

At first there were a very big number of people around us, forming a dense human shield. Music was playing from the steps and  journalists came up to interview us. I spoke with a correspondent from “Euro news” and some Georgian television journalists, and with correspondents from (the Russian TV station) NTV. I wasn’t overly thrilled about that, I’ll be honest, but for some reason they came up to me quite often.

After 23.00 the music was turned off because it’s against the law to play loud music at night. We tried to obey the law in everything, even trivial things. We knew that any such minor thing could be used against us. And if they couldn’t find one, they’d think something up.

After twelve, people began to leave so as to catch the metro before it closed. There were less and less of us, but the cordon held amazingly, quite simply to the bitter end. At night people began coming with thermoses of hot tea. As a rule it was elderly men and women from the neighbouring apartment blocks. From the very beginning it was no simple matter to get to us. So as not to let the people help us, at the approaches to the square the police detained anyway whom they found carrying a thermos.  And yet something they managed to get them through. I remember two older women who brought us three thermoses with hot water. They kissed us and said that they would pray for us. Closer to morning, a quite elderly man arrived with a crumpled cellophane packet. The packet contained some boiled sausage and bread.  He said: “I’m sorry that there’s so little, it was all I had in my fridge”.

If it hadn’t been for those people, we would have had a much harder time. Now the police grab them and for a thermos of tea or a sleeping bag, they get 10 days imprisonment. According to information on the Internet yesterday, they’ve already detained more than 100 people.

What did we do in the centre of the circle?  We walked around, talked to each other. We sat in a circle and sang songs. The very first song we sang was “Prekrasnoye daleko” [“The Wonderful far off world”]

That also felt as if it was about us. Some people from the radio held out a microphone and taped us. My voice cracked when we reached the words:

“I hear a voice, the voice asks sternly,

And what today have I done for tomorrow?”

That song, surrounded by people protecting us with their bodies is another thing I will try to remember all my life. That evening was, perhaps, the best and most important of my whole life.

My account will in many things refute all the lies which were hurled at us by Belarusian and some of the Russian mass media. For example, it is a LIE that our action was anti-Russian, that we hate Russia. There were Russians among us from Moscow, with the Russian three colours. Our maidan began not only to Belarusian songs. We were most of all united singing the songs “Peremeny” [“Changes”], “Grupa krovi” [“Blood group”], “Zvezda po imeni sontsa” [“A star named the Sun”] by Viktor Tsoi, and “Prosvistela” “Whistled” by DDT  We sang Gorodnitsky’s “Atlanty” and Vysotsky’s “knizhnye dyeti” [“Book children”, “Idiot march” by Medvedyev and “Krylatiye krylya” [“Flying swing”].

Our protest was against lies and dictatorship, against the vote rigging in the elections, against people disappearing and journalists being beaten up. It was against the Soviet Union grabbing out at us from its supposedly deep grave.

I feel like asking the Russians: do you really need an ally like Lukashenko?  An ally chosen on the principle: “a swine, of course, but he’s our swine”?

Those Russians who stood on our cordon, shoulder to shoulder with Belarusians, they don’t need an ally like that.

And there were also several Ukrainians with us who managed to slip through the border with their flag. There was a Georgian flag, though I don’t think I saw any Georgians. There were a lot of white-red-white flags and several European Union flags. Two young Estonian journalists erected flags together with us.

Incidentally, it’s a LIE that everything had been planned in advance. I can tell you how the idea to set out tents arose. Later they can wrench any testimony they like out of me to say that it was all different, but here I hope I’ll have time to tell the truth.

I rent a flat together with Sasha and Tanya. I’ve lived with Tanya ever since our hostel days while studying at the journalism faculty of the Belarusian State University. Sometimes Sveta, another friend from the same student hostel, visits us from Smorgon.

On 18 March at the concert in support of Milinkevich, Tanya and Sasha met two journalists from Estonia, K. and S. They were walking around, asking if there was anyway they could stay the night because they didn’t want to go to a hotel. K. told us that on the border they were questioned for three hours by a man from the KGB. They took K’s laptop away and for that reason they were scared to stay somewhere officially.

Tanya and Sasha brought them to our place. We talked late into the night and then in the morning I went off to the polling station to observe and then to the square, and didn’t actually return home at all. I spent the night at Pasha’s place.

The figures that the Central Election Commission began issuing already in the evening made it clear that we had been cheated. On the 19 in the evening Sveta arrived at our flat. She had campaigned for Milinkevich in Smorgon and the results from the voting at her polling station were also disturbing. As Tanya told me, at night they sat up and talked in the kitchen about how they could express their protest. The idea of tents came to everybody’s mind more or less at the same time.

The funniest thing is that the idea didn’t occur to them only. That night Pasha and I also discussed the possibility, but didn’t move beyond just discussing it. However Sveta and Tanya did move on from mere words. They rang friends and the people from “Molodoy Front” “Youth Front”.  It turned out that a lot of people were thinking the same thing. They just needed to arrange when to come to the square, and how to get the equipment through. K. And S. were surprised at first then they said: “You think yourselves, it’s your country, after all. We’ll help you put them up, of course.  At worst they’ll deport us. But you’ll have big problems”

Sveta and Tanya agreed to the problems. That made four of them. On the morning of the twentieth they rang Pasha and I to ask for permission to take my tent, sleeping bag and rucksack.  I said yes, of course. Pasha and I decided that we’d also take part at some stage. It didn’t seem such a serious thing at that point.

That made six of us. Not counting people I didn’t know.

By the way the average age of the people on October Square was around my age – 24. There were some really young ones - students, but not only. There were also some people who were older. They were mainly the strong guys who formed our cordon. There were more men than women.

Anyway, to continue my story. We were photographed almost all the time. So that the flash didn’t stop me singing, I closed my eyes.

In the centre of the camp, among the tents, we spread out ground sheets. At first we put food and warm things in the middle, but then there got to be too many and we set aside two tents for supplies.

When I carried hot tea around the rows, somebody gave me two bouquets of irises and some other flowers. We put them in a jar. Next to them somebody placed an icon they’d brought. We lit two thick candles by it. We tried to keep the centre in order, and to clear away rubbish. An icon, after all …Nearby we only put the thermoses with hot tea, but they were emptied pretty soon. . We didn’t sit in the middle very much – as soon as people brought us hot tea or coffee, we poured it into glasses and handed it around to the people on the cordon.

Incidentally, one of the grubbiest fabrications of the Belarusian mass media was that we were all drunk and that the thermoses people were bringing were full of beer.  As fabrications go, it was especially inept: I mean what idiot in freezing temperatures at 3 o’clock in the morning is going to drink beer, and not hot water?

In fact we foresaw such lies, and therefore in the tent city there was a total ban on alcohol. Everyone understood very well that if, God forbid, they found even a drop of alcohol, they’d immediately record it and label us alcoholics. We periodically chanted: “I’M DRY!  I’M DRY!”

At about 4 in the morning some guy we didn’t know turned up with two bottles of vodka. At first we wanted to send him away with them, but then we thought that maybe he wasn’t actually a provocateur and thought what would happen if the cops caught him. We didn’t even open the damned bottles. We wrapped them up in what we could, thrust them in a bag, hid them in the tent and put piles of things on top of them.

Aleksandr Milinkevich and his wife were with us all through the night. They came down from the steps to our tents. One time they managed to bring from outside a thermos with hot tea. But Milinkevich’s two sons were detained in the night on the avenue while trying to bring warm things.

At night it was very cold, especially for the people on the cordon who were protecting us also from the wind. Those people … I would get on my knees before them. They stood in a tight circle in freezing temperatures all through the night and some of them longer – 14 HOURS OR MORE, not going anywhere or budging from their place.  At night a really young lad was brought to us who was lightly dressed. He could hardly talk.  We gave him hot tea and rubbed his hands – he’d come without gloves even.

How did we keep warm?  We sang songs, chanted slogans, danced to a beat tapped out on our mugs. In different parts of the cordon people from time to time also began dancing – something like medieval dances in circles, shifting from one foot to the other, stamping in rhythm.  Some tried crouching down and getting up. Several ran around the cordon, trying all the time to stay as close as possible to those standing there. They ran with flags, in front there was a guy with a Russian flag, then someone with two flags – a Belarusian and a Ukraine, then there was a Georgian flag. They periodically called out cheerfully: “Young people for a healthy lifestyle!”  I ran with them too. It’s brilliant for keeping warm.

A little later we had to deal with another problem – TOILETS - prosaic as that may be. Obviously there were many people in the nearby buildings who would have let us in to use theirs.  The problem was that we couldn’t get there. Around the cordon there were people in civilian clothes and SOBR (special forces) officers, and all the ways onto and out of the square were blocked. I saw with my own eyes that on the adjoining streets there were whole “convoys” of vans for prisoners, coaches with riot police. You just had to move off a little bit, and that would be the end.

We thought for a long time about how to get around the problem. One guy, an underground digger, helped us. Virtually with his bare hands he wrenched open a sewage hatch, from the end closer to the road. We placed a tent over the hatch and bored a hole. At first the stink was terrible. I called out in an upbeat way to those around: “And you thought the revolution would smell of roses?” and plunged into the tent.

On Belarusian television they said that the revolting protesters had set up a toilet quite deliberately next to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (WWII).  Absurd! The Museum was so far away from the cordon and journalists’ cameras that anyone who had even thought of going there would not have returned.

Another lie needs to be mentioned. It’s such an idiotic and inept invention, and yet many people believe it. We are supposed to be standing here simply for money. The first figure mentioned was 20 thousand Belarusian roubles. Then they realized that that sounded hilariously stupid.  The authorities therefore “increased” our “salary” by almost 5 times – right up to 50 US dollars.

My God! Let those who believe that come and try standing under the gaze and cameras of plain-clothed officers. Let them stand there for 14 hours, getting numb with the cold, and waiting for the sun to rise as some salvation. And cry out joyfully when the sun’s risen. Then let them see in the morning that there is hardly anything to eat and drink, because people are simply unable to get through. And to feel how ominously the cordon is thinning with every moment because people just can’t endure it any longer and are going home to sleep, with nobody there to replace them. And let them wait every second for the storm to begin, for beatings, for provocation. And know that perhaps tomorrow you’ll be thrown out of your university or work, or put in prison.

Yes, in the morning there were really few of us. At 6 a.m. when bus No. 100 went along the avenue, we thought of something.  That part of the cordon which was facing the avenue bent down each time the “one hundred” passed by so that the tents could be seen. And they chanted: “DALUCHAITSES! DA-LU-CHAI-TSES!”  (Belarusian for “JOIN US!”) They did it as long as they physically could. We waited and waited for held, but so little came! However at 9 it became clear that the cordon would hold out. Enough people to provide replacement had arrived.

When we took them hot tea and food, they said “thank you, but we’ve just come from home”.

At 9 o’clock in the morning I started feeling really bad. I wanted to sleep and I couldn’t stop shaking from the cold. Pasha and I waited for the right moment and dashed past the special force officers and the plain-clothed men with the journalists standing nearby, leapt onto a No. 100 bus and left. And Sveta and Tanya stayed there for the third day without sleep.



Pasha and I slept a couple of hours then went off to our respective places of work. It was so strange: you are already a different person, and your life is changing so quickly, and yet for the moment everything continues through inertia, and it’s all quiet. In the editorial office nobody knew anything yet. It was still possible for another day to comfort oneself with the strange illusion that one’s former, measured and comfortable existence was continuing. A strange and sweet illusion, as if out of prison or from the war you return for half a day to your previous life.

I didn’t even fall asleep at work. I edited a hellishly difficult article and energetically sorted out other stuff. Then I went home, to dress as warmly as possible, and to put on decent boots, as I’d been idiot enough to go out in light spring boots. I didn’t have time to eat properly. I decided to go to October Square, although I had doubts. I think I had a slight cold, and I also just really wanted to get enough sleep and to write my diary. And then suddenly they’ll take me away, and forget your “continuation to follow”!  I decided to go though anyway. I wrapped my sleeping bag around me under my sheepskin, sewed it to my jersey and stuck it with scotch.

They grabbed me at the metro on October Square. It was banal and simple: the sleeping bag could be seen from underneath the sheepskin. A police officer blocked my way, asked to see my documents and told me to come with him to the police base in the metro. There they made me do an enforced striptease act, and pull out everything from my bag. I tried to behave as calmly and helpfully as possible. I attempted to hold a human conversation with the people in uniform and it worked. The officer who was sitting there was generally OK, it was with him that I talked. That black-eyed and nice older guy in all seriousness asked me how much I’d been paid. The second one was quite different. He shook out the contents of my bag. Found some disks and asked in a morose tone what was on them. I calmly answered: “Well take them, have a look”, while at the same time broke out into a cold sweat. There was news on them from the website (the Belarusian service of  “Radio Liberty”) and “March diaries”. The second cop tried to decide for a long time whether to break my disks (which at that moment I wanted more than anything).  In the end, however, he gave them back. They also returned the business card from K. in Estonian. Presumably they didn’t notice the word “correspondent”. I spoke with the police officers and tried to explain my position, to get them to understand that we weren’t drunken louts. They told me that that night there was going to be a “catch” – people were going to be beaten up and taken to the police station. In general, they tried in every way to scare me. Only one time did I almost lose my cool, and that was when the plain clothed men arrived, the KGB brigade.

If I can understand and in some ways excuse the police, those KGB creatures I HATE!  They are all somehow similar with their fattish and expressionless faces, their identical self-satisfaction and certainty of their own impunity. They’re all dressed in dark anonymous clothes, and you recognize them by that.

THESE were with badges, OUR badges “za svabodu”! They acted like the bosses in the police base. One of them, the one who was a bit taller and more thick-set, looked at my sleeping bag and said: “O, a sleeping bag” I’ll take it to Nikolayich in the car, let him warm up, he’s freezing now after 4 hours”

And then I understand that I would need to hold myself rigid or else I’d explode.

They groped about among my things, and spent a long time looking at my passport. They took the book by the Strugatsky brothers which was in my bag, bemusedly waving it around (I was dying to say it’s a book, that people read it), and asked “What’s this?  A detective novel?  Mysticism?

At first they wanted to write up a protocol and take me to the temporary detention unit on Okrestina Street. But then the tall one said: “Ah, leave her! Let’s get moving to those morons, or while we’re taking her, they’ll eat all the best things in the cordon without us”,

And he pinned a white-red-white badge in the most prominent spot.

I had never before experienced such hatred and pain. I wanted to lunge at his throat, that well-fed cynical hog who could arrest us and with a clear conscience guzzle our food. The food that people had managed to get to us, risking being put in prison for 10 days. Which young women who hadn’t slept for two days keeping vigil on Maidan handed around with their frozen hands. THAT is impossible to forget or to forgive. Lord, if you exist! Send me to hell if you wish. But do one thing!  Perform a miracle and make the next piece of food that THAT CREATURE eats choke him.  That is impossible to forgive or forget. The most revolting thing that the present regime has done – is to divide its own people into “honest” and “dishonest”. It has succeeded in well and truly brainwashing the majority of the people.  It has in the most vile way slandered the purest, most honest and courageous, those unable to tolerate injustice, unable to reconcile themselves with evil. And it has forced that smallest “dissident” part to see in every person they meet a potential provocateur and security service agent. And the entire nation has been forced into silence and fear. Fear if arrest, of losing their job, of being beaten up in a dark entrance. Fear for themselves, for their friends and relatives. During these days I have had phone calls constantly from friends and people I know asking if I’m free and how I feel.
They’re checking to find out if everything’s OK with me.

If I’m OK, then not for long. I have no illusions on that score. If they held me today for two hours and then released me, that doesn’t meant that democracy has arrived in the country.

It just didn’t suit them to make a lot of noise right now when there are so many foreign journalists in Minsk. There are people from Reuters, Polish Television and other mass media. It’s purely their presence that’s protecting us. We are at liberty while there, on the square, the cordon stands. I think that as soon as all this ends, “the committee of state security will remember our names”. All the more so since we didn’t hide our faces.

22 March.  DA-LU-CHAI-TSES!

I got a bit of sleep at home. I’m quickly finishing my diary and heading to the square. Calls keep pouring in from friends and relatives who saw me on NTV and “Euronews”. But something strange is going on with the phone, there are some noises and clicks. Most likely they’re listening in.

Last night the Estonians, K. and C. rang. The Estonian Consul has asked them to leave the country immediately. He said that they had been totally in view together with us, and that the “tent people” were going to have big problems. They asked us to forgive them that they were leaving and abandoning us.

I hope I can send these diary entries onto the Internet, I’ll drop into an Internet café. I’ll send them to whoever I can.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I want to ask those who read this.  PEOPLE! If you’re Belarusians, anyone who can, come to the square  Stand there with us!  DA-LU-CHAI-TSES!

If you live far away from Minsk, pass on these diary notes so that as many people as possible read them. You will help a lot in that way. If you can’t stand there together with us, then at least REMEMBER how it was and tell others.

Just in case, goodbye to all of you!



When the dull light of the drowned moon

Like a boat appears in our dark eyes

We’ll greet the charm of the wave

And none of us will return again.

We remember that the island is still far away,

We know that the sea will burn our brows,

But its so simple here, we feel so good here –

The blind have no need of lighthouses.

To those sailing – the sea,

Where the reef and shallows,

If we are to drown, then we’ll drown – vivat! And could anyone quarrel

In the coming sorrow

The rower has no faith; he has spurned his path back,

So be it, the free have their freedom!

The steering wheel is in our hands – that means that we will steer,

And throw your compass to the underwater demons!

We lived like fish, now we will live

Like starfish, marking out fate

We move exactly to the Syrens.

To the voice of their sorrowful sagas of mourning,

Our navigator the eyeless cyclone Polyphemus

So, we will meet in the heavens!


«Zimovye zveryei».  – a music band from St. Petersburg


[1]  “maidan” is the Ukrainian word for “square” which took on added meaning, as a place where the people assert their right to be heard, during the Orange Revolution in 2004. (translator’s note)

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2006, #04