Today will be a different kind of post, as for the last five days I have been waking up in a different kind of world. Those who follow this travel blog know that I was born and grew up in Belarus. It’s more than the country of my birth and childhood, it’s where all my family and school friends still live. It’s my homeland, my heartland. Today, Belarus is in turmoil, and its people, my people, are being brutally abused by their own government. I was 11 years old when Lukashenko was elected to power in what was the last fair election in Belarus. Today, I am 37 and Europe’s last dictator is still trying to cling to power by destroying my nation’s laws, jailing and killing his political opponents, changing the Constitution to suit his political ambitions, bankrupting the country by funneling billions into his private accounts, and every five years pretending to stage an election, results of which are always known ahead of time.
Once again, five days ago, Belarus had its future stolen by another rigged election with falsified results. But this time is different. Having jailed his main political opponents, Lukashenko allowed the wife of one of his challengers to register her candidacy. He underestimated this woman’s strength, her charisma, and her ability to organize a resisting campaign. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya announced that she has no intention of remaining in power if she wins, that her campaign just wants to oust Lukashenko and set up a fair election among all the unjustly jailed political rivals. She was immediately joined by a wife and a campaign manager of two other opposition candidates. Despite a very short window to run a political campaign and with all odds against them, these three strong, intelligent, beautiful Belarusian women organized and ran a flawless political campaign, energizing voters across the country. Their rallies were attended by thousands of people across Belarus. They became the symbol of hope. The hope for a new, free Belarus. Belarus without oppression. Belarus without dictatorship. Belarus without Lukashenko.
Finally fed up with the current power, especially due to Lukashenko’s botched Covid-19 response, Belarussians came out in droves to vote for the new government. Belarus has not seen anything like this in its modern history. There were 6-hour lines to vote in small towns and big cities, Belarusians of all ages came out strong and united, voted, and delivered a resounding defeat to Alexander Lukashenko. By various unofficial exit polls and among voters abroad, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya got more than 70% of the vote. Lukashenko’s numbers were in single digits. Yet, when the official results were announced proclaiming Lukashenko as a winner with 80% of the vote, the entire country erupted. Shocked by the government’s absolute shamelessness and total disregard for the people’s choice, people took to the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities to peacefully protest the results. The government’s response was and continues to be brutal.
Using heavily armed police forces, including special elite units and the military, Lukashenko and his generals turned the streets of Belarussian cities into a blood bath. Peaceful citizens are being beaten with batons, gassed with tear gas, ran over by military trucks, shot at with rubber bullets and even live ammunition, and pelleted with stun grenades. At least several people have been killed.
To hide its crimes, the Belarusian government shut down the Internet midday Sunday, making it extremely difficult to get the news from Belarus. Suddenly, Belarus, the IT hub of Europe, became a black spot on the map, cut off from the world, a new North Korea. As I am writing this, Internet still has not been fully restored.
Notwithstanding the brutal actions by the illegitimate government, Belarusians keep protesting and fighting for their freedom. The protests remain peaceful. Yet, the police and military continue to carry out criminal orders by viciously and sadistically beating up ordinary citizens, including children and women. More than 7,000 innocent people have been arrested in the last three days, including more than a dozen of journalists.
Like many Belarusians, the last couple of days have been agonizing for me. Searching for updates on the well-being of my family and friends, following the news from the protests and the government’s response has consumed my days. I scroll through videos shot on cell phones, the shaky footage of armed militia beating men and women in the streets, a child bloodied in a peaceful protest, pensioners screaming from their balconies for government to leave. Seeing my fellow Belarussians going through this hell, I am overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
Today, more than ever, I am proud to be a Belarusian and I am proud of the brave and sincere people of Belarus who peacefully protest and fight for their freedom. We will have a new government and this brutality and violence are simply the last convulsions of the old rotten and disgraced regime. The people of Belarus will be liberated and will live in a free, safe, and democratic country. We will win!
NOW I NEED YOUR HELP! I want you to help to spread the word about what is happening in Belarus right now. The world needs to know, especially now when the Internet is still partially disabled and journalists covering the events are under constant attack. Also, if you are able, please donate to help Belarusian citizens who have been jailed or sustained serious injuries in the hands of the last dictator of Europe and his henchmen.
You can do it here:
Thank you for your donation from me and all the Belarussian people. As a thank you, after the coronavirus pandemic is over, I will be happy to share a bit of Belarus with you by making my mom’s signature potato pancakes (draniki) next time we meet.
Finally, since this is a travel blog, I hope you can soon visit this beautiful country in the heart of Europe and learn about its history, try its food, and get to know its welcoming, lovely, and resilient people.
Thank you for your support!
Long Live Belarus!