Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) – Sergei stood on a small sheet of ice in the Dnieper River and breathed in the hard icy air. He had survived, but that relief was overwhelmed by the pain of leaving his homeland and fearing that he might not survive the rest of his dangerous journey.
Particularly notable for his independence was the run. He illegally crossed the border into Ukraine, and was not able to walk through the jungle and sheet ice, as if he had done many things before. In a hurry, and surrounded by melting snow, Sergey put on a vasuite and flippers he had bought – and swam.
In a video he filmed on his phone halfway through his two-hour journey, on New Year’s Eve, he recorded part of his escape, which included not only swimming in cold temperatures and through a dense reed, Rather involved creeping and crawling on sheet ice. Through thick mud. He was desperate to leave like this.
“My socks are freezing to ice. I will try to crawl there and hopefully I won’t freeze,” he said at one point in his video.
“I’m navigating by the stars,” he said, literally cold. “The feeling is indescribable, and I am alone here.”
Sergei – who told CNN not to reveal some details of his story and his actual identity – has now claimed asylum in another country, and wanted to share his story with CNN so he could leave it behind One day the relatives could read what had happened to him.
“I left my country, my friends and family with the bitterness of defeat,” he said. “I just became a refugee and had to start all over again, as if all I had achieved for years was suddenly nothing. To this day, I’m mentally exhausted, and worrying about the people left behind. Have been. “
CNN has spoken to several other Belarusians who have illegally fled the repression of Lukashenko’s rule across the border in Ukraine, under a two-month investigation inside the country. In dozens of interviews, protesters and opposition activists have spoken of torture – from systematic beating, to raping police batons.
Police force convicts have also supplied CNN with videos from the police’s own archives – bodymaps, dashcams and surveillance footage – that demonstrate the riot police’s extraordinary outrage against protesters who are unarmed and peaceful, many of them Are teenagers.
The Lukashenko regime has said, over the past few weeks, activists have slightly softened their strategy, as fear has gripped the opposition movement. Still, there is concern among activists that the crack will intensify after a nationwide call on the streets on 25 March.
The fate of the Belarusian protest movement has gained more prominence in the last months as anti-government protests spread in neighboring Russia against the murder and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny.
Russian President Vladimir Putin swiftly stepped up to support Lukashenko in August with a $ 1.5 billion loan and other unspecified aid. However, Belarusian protests continue. Analysts say the Kremlin is concerned with the continued protest movement for democracy at its doorstep, and the unprecedented level of police violence on the way a younger generation of Belarusians view Moscow.
After being presented with a summary of CNN’s findings, a State Department spokesman said the US “strongly condemned the months-long post-election brutality perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime against peaceful protesters.” The statement said serious misconduct, over 500 documented cases of 290 political prisoners and “many people still reported missing.”
“These violent actions have destroyed the legitimacy of the Belarusian authorities between their own people and the international community,” he said, adding that “the immediate release of political prisoners and all of them responsible for unjust detention and grave misconduct” For people “to keep an account. “
‘They cut my underwear using this knife’
Police dashboard footage begins from a police car chasing a white SUV full of protesters. It is September 13, 2020, and the vehicle is carrying activists away from a demonstration in central Minsk. The car pulls up, and then the devastating police attacks begin.
The footage shows him hitting the baton from the windows of the car. A police officer fires live rounds in a vehicle. The protesters are violently forced out, and forced to lay on the ground. Two people in the group are bleeding, one heavy and following the ground in asphalt from his cheek towards his face. The captives lie motionless. Sometimes their heads are pulled back and they name them.
A police body cam shows an officer busy treating a small cut on his hand from the glass. The heavy bleeding keeper is eventually given a bandage for his head.
In a video exclusively given to CNN by BYPOL, an opposition activist group of former Belarusian police officers who have been acquitted – are among dozens who have released that expanding police Ferrari. In some, detainees are seen on camera, beaten up visually, and marked with red, a grim sign of the police’s “traffic light” system to capture protesters in custody. Those who paint with red paint should receive the worst treatment.
There have also been allegations of sexual harassment by men and women against the police. Andrey, a Minsk keeper, told CNN that a police baton was raped by officers bidding him to unlock his phone. He wanted the identity of his fellow protesters, saying that some details of his experience and real name have not been disclosed for his safety.
Andrey says he refused to give the password, and was beaten. “They just hit me again. At this time, I probably had brain trauma, like I really started feeling dizzy. It was hard at all,” he said.
The police officer then threatens to attack him with his baton, asks his colleagues to sheath the weapon, and takes a knife from a colleague. “He cut my underwear using this knife. He asked me to give him the password again. I refused again, and then he did what he did.”
Andrey felt pain, but was also shocked that one person could do the same to another. “It’s not just the police’s anger – they train to do this,” he said. “We are seeing it for the first time in a big way now. It has now touched almost every family in Belarus.”
The Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to CNN’s request to show what police tactics and footage of violence showed and alleged misuse.
Large-scale arrests in protests in Belarus are also often accompanied by such brutalities. Another leaked police video from BYPOL shows after the October protests, in which dozens of protesters are forced to stand in the corridors of a packed police station, facing the wall, with their heads bowed, some on the walls The bleeding, gasping others beating or shedding tears they seem to have been exposed to earlier protests.
In the video, the police officer asks for details from among the detainees, and why they were in protest. A man has seven teeth. Activists said they were all visibly shaken, and most would face criminal charges for protesting.
The footage depicts the police moving loosely on the unconscious body of a teenage boy on the floor. CNN has discovered that the detained person was suspected of having an epileptic seizure, and was left on the floor by police, who passed over him. Witnesses said the boy was sometimes kicked by police to see if he was liable. “Are you a boy or a girl?” One witness recalled shouting to the police. The minors were later released from police custody, according to witnesses, who did not wish to be named.
Police in that central station were also busy that night with those who survived the riot police, CNN has learned. One was Anya, a teenager who did not even want to reveal her real name for her safety.
She fled from a front row of riot police, who were throwing stun grenades at the protesters. The explosion that caught him was captured on video.
“I didn’t fall,” he said. “I freeze like a deer. I just stood, thought, breathed, looked around.” She said she did not believe she had been intentionally targeted, and was swiftly put into a taxi by protesters as ambulances nearby were alighted.
At the hospital, he was placed next to a man who was trampled by police until he broke his hip. “I started screaming that I needed help,” she said. “Seven people came into the room. Everyone looked at me and my body. Like ‘Wow, what happened to you?’ They didn’t help. They just looked at me. “
Doctors gave him basic treatment and painkillers, but also preferred a blood alcohol test and told the police about his whereabouts and injuries. He feared his safety and left his mother. But the police were not with him, he said.
She shared CNN pictures of injuries to her legs while she lay on a couch at home. His phone rang the same evening.
“This police was asking where I was,” Anya said. “I started making up stories. They said they would come and get me, a unit of theirs. And if they take me, I thought, then I can say goodbye to my organs, because no one cares for me. Will. I was worried. ” They will torture me on my injuries. “
He left Belarus shortly after and showed CNN the pieces of the grenade that had been removed from his leg. A piece is still lodged in his thigh.
Anya hopes for a change in Belarus for her generation, and said that while the current peaceful protest has not worked, it has caused awakening. “Now there is a saying among Belarusians that we didn’t really know each other until the summer,” she said, beginning the protest.
His generation’s desire for wholesale change is not only in favor of Lukashenko, but also of the Kremlin. Some analysts say that Putin is wary of siding too closely with Lukashenko’s ruthless action, as it permanently turns the small Belarus against Moscow.
For him, it may be too late.
“Lukashenko would not be so arrogant and ruthless without Russia’s assurances, always having his back,” Aanya said.
“We are not their people, we are strangers. Russia does not care what happens to us.”