Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has unleashed his brutal secret police on the country, detaining thousands of regime critics in mass rounds up. One former detainee who has since been forced to flee the country has recalled the moment she was grabbed off the street by Belarus’ feared internal security and hurled off for interrogation.
Speaking to the Express from an undisclosed location, Inna Kavalionak recalled: “I just went to grab some coffee in a shop and, I mean, I had a cup in my hand when three, quite a big man ran into me from the back.
“They just grabbed me. I didn’t have any time to think or ask why.
“Literally a couple of minutes later I found myself in their car, they just pushed me into the car.”
The former theatre producer turned opposition activist had long feared the regime might one day come for her but says the sudden arrest still came as a shock.
Inna said: “Technically, of course, I was on some level expecting this. I mean, I was aware that it might have happened but still, I asked them ‘ who are you?’ or something because of course they didn’t have any uniforms. They looked like civilians.
“Then we went to the police station and then all the let’s say, the classic cycle started.”
Inna, who had volunteered for opposition candidate Viktor Babariko before the contest 2020 elections, was then held for a month during which time she describes being denied water and other basic needs.
She said: “You’re deprived of very basic stuff like taking a shower and having running water.”
She added: “So even though, let’s say I can take a lot physically still it was complicated even for me.
“And of course, psychologically.”
Inna explained the guards look to instil fear in prisoners as a means of stamping out dissent, saying: “They try to create this atmosphere of fear, that you’re forgotten and nobody cares about you, and we can do anything we want with you and nobody will ever know.
“No lawyer visits and they told us, we want to make your life so bad so you definitely do not want to come back here, so you definitely don’t want to protest again, you don’t want to like speak up again.”
Following her eventual release from detention, Inna set up Politzek.me an organisation that advocates for political prisoners in Belarus.
She explained that over 40,000 people have suffered similar arbitrary “administrative arrests” in the wake of the protests in 2020.
Inna told Express.co.uk: “This is a huge number considering the size of the population, it was like this well-oiled machine when it was like one out another in, one out another in.”
Looking back Inna considers herself fortunate to have not been caught up in the more recent wave of arrests which have seen over a thousand Belarusian dissidents arrested and sentenced to hard labour in penal colonies – some for years at a time.
Politzek.me maintains a database documenting the case of every political prisoner currently held in Lukashenko’s prisons with the number growing almost daily, but Inna is determined to fight on for those still behind bars.
She told Express.co.uk: “Unfortunately at some level, we should admit that the repression has led to a certain success for the regime because they have managed to make people fear.
“But on the other hand, the way I see it, and for example, our organisation sees is well, let’s admit their success, but we also have our own power in terms of solidarity, speaking up and so on.
“They continue, I continue – so and let us see who wins.”