viasna on patreon

"You will travel around the world and tell us how the Belarusian diaspora lives." How the KGB were trying to persuade a Minsk resident to cooperate

2024 2024-04-04T17:53:50+0300 2024-04-04T17:55:41+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Anastasiya (name changed for security reasons) graduated from one of the capital's universities, and then she worked as a guide at a Minsk museum. The woman showed an active civic position: she participated in protest actions in 2020, studied at the Free Belarus University, and became a member of Akhova Ptushak Batskaushchyny (Protection of Birds of the Fatherland). In the spring of 2024, KGB officers came to the woman. During the interrogation, they were interested in her attitude to the Belarusian language and offered to collect information about the Belarusian diaspora abroad. After that, the woman left the country.

The woman told Viasna how she managed to delete Telegram from her phone during the search and how she did not agree to cooperate with the KGB.

Будынак КДБ_фота TUT.BY
KGB building in Minsk. Photo: TUT.BY

In 2020–2021, Anastasiya went to protests, and also participated in student actions. And just before the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the woman joined the Akhova Ptushak Batskaushchyny in order to support the organization with a membership fee. Then there were rumors that the organization was going to be dissolved.

The woman studied online at the Free Belarus University until the end of 2023. This was later used against her by KGB officers during interrogation.

"Why do you think we came to you?"

On the day of her detention, on February 5, Anastasiya planned to meet with her boyfriend. But a few hours before she was supposed to leave, unknown people knocked on her door.

"It was two men dressed in civilian clothes. One of them showed his ID, but he put it away very quickly, and I didn't have time to read anything. They immediately asked, "Why do you think we came to you?" I immediately realized that the secret services were interested in me. But I answered all the questions that I don't know or don't remember," says the interlocutor.

"Where did you hide the flag?"

KGB officers claimed that the woman had a Belarusian national flag and asked where it was hidden.

"I did have a flag. I hid it in the fridge. But I told them that I got rid of it back in 2020. There was also a small clay magnet on the refrigerator with the inscription Long live Belarus and the Chase coat of arms. But they surprisingly did not notice it. I had a book Military Symbols of Belarusians by Viktar Liakhor on my shelf. Previously, it had already attracted the attention of the authorities. But the book has a red and green cover, so they probably didn't notice it."

During the search, KGB officers asked the interlocutor every now and again if she had any presumptions about the reason for their visit. The woman said no, and was ordered to get ready for interrogation.

"The security forces demanded to give them all my devices. I had a sticker on my laptop that was given to everyone who joined Akhova Ptushak Batskaushchyny. I hid the flash drive with the protest photos in advance. I managed to delete my email account on Proton from my phone, and when I started deleting the secret version of Telegram, they noticed it. I wasn't sure I had time to delete everything, so I drowned the phone in a kettle with water."

The woman's arm was twisted and her face was pressed against the sofa. After that, the woman was forced to change clothes in front of the security forces, as they said, "there is no trust in you anymore."

Anastasiya was allowed to take with her only those things that she was wearing, so she put on several pairs of underwear at once, preparing for a long imprisonment.

A prayer that the woman kept in her phone case, which she drowned during the search. Photo from the personal archive of the heroine

"If you try to escape, we will use force"

The woman was driven in a gray Hyundai through the center of Minsk to the KGB building, and the security forces continued to force her to tell why they detained her. They promised to reduce the term for this. They threatened to beat her for trying to escape.

"The security forces immediately warned: "If you try to escape, we will use force." They asked who I voted for in the last presidential election. But at that time I was still a minor, so I couldn't vote."  

"I can't talk, I'm in a library"

On the way, the security forces asked Anastasiya how she felt about police officers, and were outraged that everyone considered them punishers, the source says.

In the KGB office, a red and green paper flag was stuck on the safe door. Carpets with the coats of arms of the KGB and the Investigative Committee hung on the walls.

There, the woman began to be questioned.

"I answered all their questions as neutrally as possible."

Anastasiya kept receiving phone calls from her friend. The security forces finally allowed the woman to answer, but ordered her not to say where she was.

"I replied that I couldn't talk because I was in a library. And that I would call her back later."

"Why don't you align yourself with Russia?"

In 2022, the woman went to study in Sweden. Anastasiya still had a Schengen visa in her passport from that trip. This attracted the attention of the security forces.

"They started asking me why I went there, why I studied a foreign language and why I didn't align myself with Russia instead of the West. I told them that I was just interested in traveling and seeing something new."

KGB officers began to offer Anastasiya to cooperate with them.

"They were interested in what my future plans for life were. I replied that I plan to get a master's degree after finishing my mandatory 2-year work assignment from the university. The security forces asked if I would like to try myself in something else. I made it clear to them that I was not interested in that at all."

They also asked if the woman speaks Polish and has a Polish card.

"The KGB officers said, "We get you a visa, and you will go to see the world and tell us how the Belarusian diaspora lives." I told them that after visiting them, I didn't want anything else and would quietly work in my museum for 800 rubles."

"Thank you for the peaceful sky"

Sometimes, an employee in a black T-shirt came into the office, playing the role of a "bad cop." He shouted at the woman and read out her comments made in 2020, which she left in her district Telegram chat.

"I left one comment during the march on Dziady in 2020: "The security forces ran up the hill behind the School №13." And when Raman Bandarenka was killed, I wrote that the punishers would be punished according to the law. The KGB asked me if I still thought so. I told them what they wanted to hear: thank you for the peaceful sky above our heads, because otherwise it would be like in Ukraine."

During the interrogation, the security forces constantly corrected the woman:"not the war, but a special operation", "not the Second World War, but the Great Patriotic War".

Anastasiya was also asked how she felt about the war in Ukraine and why she had friends on Facebook who serve in Kalinoŭski regiment.

"I told them that I just like guys in military uniforms. When the security forces asked why I didn't have Russian military friends then, I told them that they were on VKontakte, and I was on Facebook."

The last photo Anastasiya took before leaving Belarus. Photo from the personal archive of the heroine

"In no case should you speak with Viasna"

At the end of the interrogation, Anastasiya was left alone with one employee, who just sat in silence for a long time. The woman says that the uncomfortable pause was created specifically to psychologically influence her.

"Then I started telling the KGB officer various boring things about the museum business and other things that are not relevant to the case. As a result, I was released."

Under threat of reprisals, the woman was strictly ordered not to tell anyone about the detention.

"They told me: "In no case should you speak with Viasna about what happened here." They tried to intimidate me saying that they would follow me and come to visit." 

After her release, Anastasiya left Belarus the next day. After two countries, the woman reached the border with Poland, where she requested political asylum.

Latest news