"I could never dream of something like this happening in my city, in my country"

Gennadiy Mozheiko,
reporter for Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus newspaper
"I could never dream of something like this happening in my city, in my country"
Gennadiy Mozheiko,
reporter for Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus newspaper
On the night of August 11-12, Gennadiy Mozheiko, along with a photographer, cameraman and driver from Komsomolskaya Pravda, were working in the Serebryanka area in Minsk. Gennadiy tried to hide in the car from the approach of the security forces. But they ran over to the vehicle and beat the journalist and the driver. The details are in his story:
The night of 11-12 August followed the third day of protests. Our reporters were on assignment in various so-called "hot spots": Pushkinskaya metro station, Serebryanka, "Riga" shopping centre… I was sent to Serebryanka. There were four of us: me, a photographer, a cameraman, and a driver.

We arrived shortly after midnight. There were only a few protesters, but a lot of police. All around us were buses, people in helmets, with shields, fully kitted out. By the time we arrived, they were trying to dismantle the barricades that the protesters had apparently built. Three of us went out, and the driver stayed in the car.

We approached the crossroads and started looking around. The photographer took several photos. We spent no more than five or ten minutes at that crossroads.

It goes without saying that all of us were wearing high-visibility jackets with "Press" written on them, as well as white helmets. The photographer and the cameraman were holding their equipment in their hands.
"We were trying to explain that we are journalists, but all we got in response was swearing and beating"
The number of law enforcement officers was steadily growing. We retreated a bit. And then the police started charging at us. Apart from us, there were about 15 protesters and passers-by. You could see that one was simply out walking their dog.

Everyone ran, and so did we. Looking back, I should say that most likely this was our strategic mistake. Later, when we were trying to analyse what happened, we decided that if we had not reacted and just stood where we were, things might have been different.

But we instinctively fled together with the crowd. The photographer ran off to the roadway, where cars were standing in a traffic jam. The cameraman ran on, and I hid in our car in the parking lot. For some reason it seemed a good idea to me. But it was a tactical mistake.

We were sitting quietly in the car. The police went by. We thought they would leave, and we'd be able either to drive away or to continue our work – depending on the circumstances. But police in full riot gear – called "cosmonauts" because of the way they look – were not going to leave. After discussing something among themselves, they started checking all the cars in our parking lot. Soon they reached ours, where we were sitting as quiet as mice, as they say. Immediately they shouted, "Get out!" I showed my press credentials right away. It is needless to say that no reasonable dialogue followed.

Everything happened in a blink of an eye: we tried to explain that we were members of the press, and all they did was curse at us.

There were two of us, the driver and me, and about ten of them. The first thing they did was order us to raise the hood of the car for some reason. Then they ordered us to open the trunk. All of the "conversation" was accompanied by screams, threats, and the blows of truncheons to the legs and arms. Our driver suffered the most. He turned to open the trunk, leaned over, and was beaten on his hands and feet.

I could not see anything, just the darkness and mayhem. All of them were dressed in black, with truncheons, looking exactly the same. One of them tells you something, but you do not have time to answer, before another one interrupts him. You have no idea whom to answer. At the same time, you get hit with the baton all over your body.

They shouted, "Because of you we have to run around for a month already", "You get thousands of dollars and rubles from the US". And many other standard propaganda lines.

After we managed to convince them that we were indeed members of the press, they started smashing all the cars near ours. Every second, every third one – just randomly. I do not know if there were people in these cars. I did not have a chance to see. First, the dark. Secondly, the mayhem. Third, you are just afraid to turn your head, because you know you can get hit at any moment.
"I got away with a couple of bruises. It is nothing compared to the others' stories"
In the end, they let us go. We went back to the car, called our colleagues. The photographer told us that he had just stepped on the highway. The police ran up to him, twisted his arms behind his back, but quickly let him go without any beating. And the cameraman managed to flee far away to safety. After that, we went back to the editorial office.

I got away with a couple of bruises. It is nothing compared to the stories of others which feature in our publications.

By the main election day, it was clear that this ballot would be different from all the previous ones. But this kind of thing… It was the first time I had seen anything like it.

What happened has, of course, had an impact on me. I remember everything: the sounds and the images. I could never dream of something like this happening in my city, in my country. Barricades, stun grenades exploding. But I do not think my attitude to work has changed in any way. That said, the editorial staff has been treating us with even more care.