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Ukrainians, Poles, Russians: which foreign citizens are in Belarusian prisons for political reasons Updated

2024 2024-04-30T09:32:00+0300 2024-04-30T10:33:15+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The Belarusian regime persecutes not only the citizens of its own country for political reasons, but also citizens of other countries. Probably one of the most famous political cases against foreign citizens is the case of Natallia Khershe, who was released from imprisonment with the assistance of the Swiss Confederation. Citizens of Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan remain behind bars. The exact figure is unknown, but at least it is over 30. They are being persecuted for participating in protests, making comments, and providing information to independent media and relatives abroad. With the outbreak of the full-scale war in Ukraine, pressure and persecution of Ukrainians in Belarus have increased: they are accused of "agent activities" and "espionage". Viasna reports which foreign citizens are being persecuted in Belarus for political reasons. 

Ілюстрацыйнае фота
Illustrative photo


Earlier, several citizens of Ukraine were convicted for participating in protests in 2020 under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (active participation in actions grossly violating public order). Among them are Mikhail Feranets, Raman Huzinski, Iryna Koval, Kiryl Piatrenka, Aksana Lakoza. Now, after serving their sentence, they are being deported to third countries.

Aliaksandr Patapau, a 69-year-old native of Ukraine (who has Belarusian citizenship) was sentenced to two years in a penal colony for comments about Lukashenka on Odnoklassniki. After the injury and death of his daughter and niece in Ukraine at the hands of the Russian military, he left emotional comments. During his last speech at the trial, he was forbidden to use Ukrainian words.

Ukrainian citizen Katsiaryna Brukhanava was sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony for "promoting extremist activities". She was accused of sending two videos with the movement of Russian military equipment near Minsk to the chatbot of Zerkalo editorial office at the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine.

In general, with the outbreak of the full-scale war in Ukraine, pressure on Ukrainians in Belarus has increased. To this day, border guards thoroughly interrogate them at checkpoints, and some are not allowed into the country without explanation.

For two years now, Ukrainians have been persecuted in Belarus on suspicion of cooperation with the Ukrainian special services. The actions of the detained Ukrainians are classified as "agent activity" under Articles 358-1 of the Criminal Code and "espionage" (Article 358 of the Criminal Code). At least seven citizens of Ukraine were convicted under these articles: Siarhei Boika, Liudmila Hancharenka, Mikhail Staliarchuk, Dzmitry Hudzik, Pavlo Kupriyenko, Andrei Shmai, Natallia Zakharanka.

Павел Купрыенка на судзе
Pavlo Kupriyenko on trial

A 25-year-old DJ from the village of Padharodnaja in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine Artsiom Makavei is also prosecuted for agent activity (Article 358-1 of the Criminal Code). The trial began on April 29 in the Brest Regional Court. The trial is presided by judge Mikalai Sianko.

Арцём Макавей
Artsiom Makavei

According to Nasha Niva, Makavei lived in Belarus since 2009 and had a residence permit. His mother said that in January 2023, her son was called to the migration service and "offered to take a polygraph test." The man is held in custody in a Brest pre-trial detention center.

Mikalai Shvets from Ukraine, a defendant in the case of the attack in Mačuliščy on February 26, 2023, is also being held in custody. According to propagandists, the Ukrainian special services sent him to Belarus to commit a "terrorist attack". It is unknown when the trial will take place.Затрыманне Мікалая Швеца

In the autumn of 2023, the KGB announced that six people had been detained in Belarus on charges of "preparing terrorist attacks," among them two Ukrainians. The Ukrainian huntsman Viachaslau Barodziy was detained in the Jeĺsk district of Belarus, which borders the Žytomir region of Ukraine. Propagandists claimed that he had allegedly been trained at the training center of the Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and that "since March of this year, in addition to the HUR of the Ministry of Defense, he also began to cooperate with the Security Service of Ukraine." What exactly he is accused of is still unknown. He was chained up during the investigation. Viachaslau Barodziy was placed in a pre-trial detention center.

Вячаслаў Бародзій на следчым дзеянні
Viachaslau Barodziy during investigative action

Ivan Likhalat was also detained. It was reported that he was charged with espionage (Article 358-1 of the Criminal Code). In early April 2024, the state-owned ONT channel released a story about detentions in areas bordering Ukraine. 10 detainees were reported, three of whom are citizens of Ukraine. These are father and son Siarhei and Pavel Kabarchuk. According to the TV channel, they illegally crossed the Ukrainian-Belarusian border and brought explosives to Belarus. The authors of the story claim that the men crossed the border with thermal camera, thus checking if there was anyone in their way. What they are accused of now, the procedural status, and location of the Ukrainians are unknown.

It is also alleged that Lidziya Hruk, a citizen of Ukraine and resident of the Malaryta district, was detained. According to propagandists, she and her husband Yauhen photographed border facilities in Ukraine. The authors of the video claim that she is also accused of terrorism.

The Republic of Latvia

In October 2023, 57-year-old Latvian citizen Ala Sakalenka was convicted in the Minsk City Court. She was accused of espionage activities under Articles 358-1 of the Criminal Code. Anastasiya Papko presided over the trial in closed session, but its result is unknown.

Ала Сакаленка на допыце. Скрын з фільма АТН
Ala Sakalenka interrogated. A screenshot from the ONT film

In the propaganda film, which also showed the detention of the woman, it was reported that "Sakalenka, on the instructions of the Latvian special services, prepared for the recruitment of the Belarusian military, collected data, created compromising situations, which then serve as the basis for recruitment by foreigners."

She is serving her sentence in the Homieĺ women's colony.

The "list of extremists" also notes that 45-year-old Latvian citizen Dzmitry Siuko was convicted in Belarus. In 2022, he was convicted in the Court of the Čyhunačny District of Homieĺ under Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a representative of the government). The man was prescribed compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital with enhanced supervision.

The Russian Federation

One of the most high-profile cases of persecution of a Russian citizen was the case of Sofia Sapega, who was detained with Raman Pratasevich as a result of Ryanair boarding in 2021. She was sentenced to six years in prison for administering the Black Book of Belarus project. On June 7, 2023, Sofia was released by pardon.

Sofia Sapega on trial

In the Tsikhanouski case, Dzmitry Papou, a Russian citizen, was sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony. He was accused of moderating the social media pages of the Country for Life and convicted under four articles of the Criminal Code. In October 2022, it became known that the political prisoner had been transferred to a prison security level. At the trial, which took place directly in the pre-trial detention center, he was defended by lawyer Maryia Kolesava-Hudzilina. In an interview with the blog Maksimalna, she said:

"But in fact, he just brought a power bank to Tsikhanouski once. The man received 16 years for bringing a power bank and being friends with the camera man of Tsikhanouski. That's it."

Andrei Novikau, a citizen of the Russian Federation, was also convicted in the Tsikhanouski case. He served his sentence in full and was released from Babrujsk Penal Colony No. 2 on October 31, 2022. The man was immediately deported to Russia and handed over to the FSB.

In Minsk, 20-year-old Russian Yegor Dudnikov was sentenced to 11 years in a penal colony. The man was detained for voicing videos and audio messages on the OGSB Telegram channel. After his detention, he was tortured. In the summer of 2022, he was transferred from the Babrujsk colony to the prison security level.

Ягор Дуднікаў на судзе 20 снежня. Фота
Yegor Dudnikov on trial on December 20. Photo by Belta

Maksim Matyrka, a Russian citizen sentenced to nine years in a penal colony and beaten during the August protests, is being held in the Vaŭkavysk colony.

Now Russian citizen Aliaksei Kulikou is being tried in the case of preparing attacks in Hrodna. According to the KGB, Aliaksei photographed objects in Hrodna for the "Ukrainian special services": the military enlistment office of Hrodna and the Hrodna region, military unit 41780, the Auĺs oil depot, the Dzieviatoŭka oil depot, the Consulate General of the Russian Federation. Kulikou was charged under Part 2 of Article 289 (act of terrorism) and Part 2 of Article 126 (act of international terrorism) of the Criminal Code.

In 2022, 59-year-old Siarhei Botvich was convicted of "espionage" (Article 358 of the Criminal Code) and "agent activity" (Article 358-1 of the Criminal Code). The result of the trial is unknown to human rights defenders.

The Republic of Poland

At the moment, human rights activists are aware of three Polish citizens convicted under political articles. 

In the spring of 2023, Yezhy Zhyvaleuski, a Polish citizen, was sentenced to four years in a penal colony in Hrodna for "agent activity ". He was charged under Article 358-1 of the Criminal Code (agent activity). Yezhy is serving time in Viciebsk colony No. 3.

On April 17, 2023, Robert Tampala, a 54-year-old Polish citizen born in Minsk, was sentenced to three years in a penal colony under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting Lukashenka) and Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting government officials). The man is serving his sentence in Navapolack colony No. 1.

In the summer of 2023, the Brest Regional Court considered the case of Tomash Biaroza, who was accused under Part 1 of Article 358-1 of the Criminal Code (agent activity) and Article 358 (espionage). The result of the trial is unknown to human rights defenders.

The Republic of Uzbekistan

The "list of extremists" includes 62-year-old citizen of the Republic of Uzbekistan Ildar Taukhitau, convicted under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting a representative of the government). As of August 2023, it was indicated that he was serving his sentence.

Uzbek citizen Viktar Novikau and his wife Volha were convicted of participating in protests in 2022. The Leninski District Court found them guilty under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (active participation in actions grossly violating public order).

The Republic of Kazakhstan

Vital Skudarnau, a resident of Petrykaŭ with Kazakh citizenship, is serving a term in Navapolack colony No. 1. On February 11, 2022, he was convicted in Homeĺ under Article 130 of the Criminal Code (inciting other social hatred), Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a representative of the government), and 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting Lukashenka). His term is unknown.

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