“I was injured near the town where Alexander Taraikovsky was killed,” Grigoriy told DW, trying to smile. Alexander Taraikovsky was the first anti-government protester to be killed in Minsk. In fact, his death was the first to be officially recognized by the Belarusian authorities. Grigoriy had difficulty moving the right side of his mouth after being injured. Cynically, he told DW that he too had almost made it into Belarusian history books.
Doctors gave him a 20% chance of survival after his injury left him traumatic brain trauma. It’s a miracle Grigoriy hasn’t lost his sense of humor. For safety reasons, he didn’t want to reveal the exact details leading to his injury, or his true identity. Then what really happened in August 2020?
Grigoriy: Coming back from coma
It was a warm summer evening, Grigoriy had finished work and joined a peaceful rallies to protest the country’s fraudulent presidential elections. “You could hardly call it a protest march, people were just standing around the street,” he recalls. “There are a lot of people, I feel like all the Minsk people have turned up; the authorities are shutting down the internet and people are coming out of their homes.”
He described the atmosphere like being inside a soccer station during a game. Then, he said, the police came. They began to disperse the protesters, who fled to a nearby shop. Grigoriy said he immediately left the shop. What happened next he couldn’t say – he didn’t remember at all.
A week later, Grigoriy woke up from a coma in the Minsk intensive care unit. He underwent eight emergency operations to save his life. And it took four months for him to finally be discharged from the hospital. Initially, his right arm and leg were paralyzed. So, also the right side of his face, left him speechless. Fortunately, he was able to speak again – although speaking certain words remained a challenge. His severe injury also affected his cognitive abilities. “My aphasia means I sometimes forget numbers,” he told DW, trying to remember his age. “Oh yes, I’m 29.”
To Germany for medical treatment
Grigoriy said he had always been interested in political events. Yet never, he said, did he publicly voice his views. “This election is the first time I participate, I vote Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya“Grigoriy said he knew the vote would be rigged,” but I want the officials who counted the ballots to see how many people are against this. “
To this day, he still can’t use his right arm properly – he has trouble using the computer keyboard, or tying his shoelaces. Even so, he said, things could get worse.
The incident, one of his relatives told DW, did not change his personality. “When he woke up [from the coma], he asked for a pair of headphones, a tablet, and an e-book. “Six months after suffering his injuries, Grigoriy flew to Germany to undergo rehabilitation. There, physio and occupational therapists helped him regain most of his motor skills.
Belarusian expatriate community in Germany
Members of the German Belarusian expatriate community helped organize Grigoriy’s stay and care. Elisabeth, a Belarusian IT manager, is one of them. He has lived in Germany for over 20 years. “After seeing what happened in August ”I – like many other people – felt I had to do something,” Elisabeth told DW. The incident, she said, made her unable to focus on work, sleep well, and caused her to lose her appetite. News; the best medicine at the moment such a time to get involved. “
Elisabeth knows like-minded people at pro-Belarusian marches in Germany, and on the internet. He then formed a group to coordinate medical assistance for his injured compatriots.
At first, he said, it made things roll seem scary. Due to the pandemic, Germany has restricted the entry of tourists as well as medical patients. Visas are only given to people who have a medical diagnosis, although carrying out a thorough examination from abroad is almost impossible.
Finally, Elisabeth’s organization managed to contact medical patients in Belarus and the German Minsk embassy. The German Belarusian expatriate community and Libereco, a human rights group, then raised donations to pay for Grigoriy’s treatment.
Thousands of arrests
Asked for comment on the matter, the German Foreign Ministry confirmed to DW that it supports measures to help individuals who have experienced violence or torture at the hands of the Belarusian state to recover in Germany. This includes ease of entry into Germany. Last August, Belarusian Interior Minister Yuri Karayev apologized for observers who were not involved in the demonstration because they were injured by the police. However, he added, at that time, the injury could occur in a large-scale operation to combat violations of public order.
Human rights group Viasna said more than 25,000 people were arrested between August 9 and the end of 2020. Most of them were released under certain conditions, required to pay fines, or sentenced to prison terms of 10 to 15 days.
Vladimir: Belarusian ‘symbol of protest’
Vladimir is another protester who was granted a visa to receive medical treatment in Germany. Like Grigoriy, DW cannot reveal his true identity for security reasons. Her ordeal started after meeting friends in Minsk and she left in a taxi. At that time, Vladimir wore a sports jacket adorned with Pahonia, the country’s historical symbol. The red and white emblem immediately represented the Belarusian opposition movement.
“Police officers – about seven people wearing helmets and armed with machine guns – came up to me,” Vladimir told DW. “They told me to get down on my knees.” Then, he said, the officer broke his arm and passed out from the pain. “When I regained consciousness, an ambulance had arrived to take me to the hospital.” It turned out that he had a broken shoulder. “There, I had surgery and they put the plates on.” Initially, he remembered, he couldn’t move his right arm at all.
After being released from hospital, Vladimir learned of two charges had been filed against him – one for hooliganism, the other for disobeying state officials. Vladimir refuses to admit guilt. As his trial date continued to be delayed, he decided to leave the country, fearing the repercussions. He also wants to receive proper medical care for his arm. Members of Razam, a political organization made up of Belarusian expatriates in Germany, helped Vladimir obtain humanitarian visas for the country.
November 2020: Anti-government protesters are not deterred by demonstrations that continue through the end of the year
Therapy for the soul
Vladimir is still surprised that the symbol on his jacket triggered the brutal attack. “Right now, I completely forgot that I was wearing it; it did not occur to me that in this country my clothes could provoke such aggression.”
Vladimir hopes he can extend his visa and continue his outpatient care in Germany. He is optimistic about the future. “I have a positive outlook and feel my arms are getting better.”
German-based Belarusian volunteers, meanwhile, want to help their compatriots who have been harassed by the Belarusian police. “Unfortunately,” said Elisabeth, “our help is still needed.” Adds that “it’s not just therapy for the patient, it’s therapy for me too – it’s great fun doing something useful to help other people.”
This article was translated from German by Benjamin Restle.