Pasha Kritchko

BELARUSIAN CONNECTIONS

Belarus

BELARUSIAN CONNECTIONS

After the events of 2020 around the presidential elections in Belarus and the violently suppressed protests and repression by the authorities, many family ties were severed or continued to exist in a new reality. For many of us, it has become normal that every day people are detained in the country and deprived of their freedom, as well as the opportunity to communicate normally with relatives. We also take it for granted that it is advisable for those who actively participated in the events of 2020 to leave the country and not return there before things change, otherwise they will be detained. We have become used to seeing our relatives once a year, unless we were lucky and they were able to travel with us or get a visa. For some, there is no such possibility, because mom or dad or someone close is in prison. We send letters that do not always arrive, and in special cases get to make video calls a few times a year. We are watching from the outside how conditions are worsening for some of the political prisoners, how their health is deteriorating. It has become natural for someone in the family to die, and not be able to go home to the funeral.

Many Belarusian volunteers have joined the fighting in Ukraine, helping to defend it from Russian attacks. For some, Ukraine has become a home and a family, and they protect it. Some even see this as a chance to return to their loved ones in Belarus sooner, if Ukraine succeeds, but it’s a path for which many pay with their lives and health. Often, the families of volunteer fighters face questions from the authorities in Belarus and they are subjected to pressure. This is the new reality of the lives of thousands of people, which they accept or try to fight in order to be closer to their loved ones. I have also faced some of these challenges and in a way, photography and what I see when I photograph other families and people, helps me to look at these things from a different angle and appreciate the opportunities for communication with my relatives that I still have.



A woman with flowers, near the gate of the Okrestina detention centre in Minsk, waiting for the famous basketball player Elena Leuchanka to be released after 15 days of detention. The prison is known as a detention centre for Belarusian opposition activists arrested during mass protests against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko. According to numerous reports, many protesters arrested during the 2020 Belarusian protests were tortured in Okrestina. Many were beaten and in some cases seriously injured. At least three detainees suffered injuries indicative of sexual violence in Okrestina or on the way there. The victims were hospitalised with intramuscular bleeding of the rectum, anal fissure and bleeding, and damage to the mucous membrane of the rectum.

A woman with flowers, near the gate of the Okrestina detention centre in Minsk, waiting for the famous basketball player Elena Leuchanka to be released after 15 days of detention. The prison is known as a detention centre for Belarusian opposition activists arrested during mass protests against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko. According to numerous reports, many protesters arrested during the 2020 Belarusian protests were tortured in Okrestina. Many were beaten and in some cases seriously injured. At least three detainees suffered injuries indicative of sexual violence in Okrestina or on the way there. The victims were hospitalised with intramuscular bleeding of the rectum, anal fissure and bleeding, and damage to the mucous membrane of the rectum.

Levon plays at home with his son Miki, after spending 7 months in a pre-trial detention centre waiting to be sent to a correctional facility a few months later. Levon Khalatran was a volunteer at opposition figure Viktar Babaryka's campaign headquarters. He was detained on August 11, 2020 under the "rioting case" (Article 293 of the Criminal Code). On February 19, 2021, Levon Khalatran was sentenced to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility (so-called "khimiya"). Levon served his sentence in full and was released on May 21, 2022.

Levon plays at home with his son Miki, after spending 7 months in a pre-trial detention centre waiting to be sent to a correctional facility a few months later. Levon Khalatran was a volunteer at opposition figure Viktar Babaryka's campaign headquarters. He was detained on August 11, 2020 under the "rioting case" (Article 293 of the Criminal Code). On February 19, 2021, Levon Khalatran was sentenced to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility (so-called "khimiya"). Levon served his sentence in full and was released on May 21, 2022.

Cultural activist Ksenya Tyrsik said goodbye to her parents and a dozen friends at the railway station in Minsk and got on a train to Moscow, and from there on a plane to Vilnius. She was forced to leave Belarus urgently, shortly after serving a 15-day detention under administrative arrest on the pretext of participating in an unsanctioned mass event and disobedience towards police officers. The threat of a criminal case for organising protest actions hung over her, although she was not involved in this. Many people who were active have been ousted from the country. From August 9, 2020 to the present day, more than 160,000 Belarusians have left the country. More and more far-fetched criminal cases are initiated to intimidate people.

Cultural activist Ksenya Tyrsik said goodbye to her parents and a dozen friends at the railway station in Minsk and got on a train to Moscow, and from there on a plane to Vilnius. She was forced to leave Belarus urgently, shortly after serving a 15-day detention under administrative arrest on the pretext of participating in an unsanctioned mass event and disobedience towards police officers. The threat of a criminal case for organising protest actions hung over her, although she was not involved in this. Many people who were active have been ousted from the country. From August 9, 2020 to the present day, more than 160,000 Belarusians have left the country. More and more far-fetched criminal cases are initiated to intimidate people.

A screening in Warsaw of Aleksey Poluyan's film Courage was dedicated to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of political leader Maria Kalesnikava and lawyer Maksim Znak. The event was organised in coordination with Tatyana Khomich, Maria Kalesnikava’s sister. She is now fighting for the release of her sister and thousands of other political prisoners in Belarus, participating in initiatives to support them, as well as drawing public attention to this issue throughout the world. On December 31, 2022, 1,446 people in Belarus were considered to be political prisoners.

A screening in Warsaw of Aleksey Poluyan's film Courage was dedicated to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of political leader Maria Kalesnikava and lawyer Maksim Znak. The event was organised in coordination with Tatyana Khomich, Maria Kalesnikava’s sister. She is now fighting for the release of her sister and thousands of other political prisoners in Belarus, participating in initiatives to support them, as well as drawing public attention to this issue throughout the world. On December 31, 2022, 1,446 people in Belarus were considered to be political prisoners.

Iryna Arakhouskaya dances at a concert by Belarusian rock band RSP in Warsaw. She worked as a photographer for Belsat media in Belarus, and was wounded when she was covering the protests in Minsk on August 9-11, 2020. She was not able to return home to her family in Belarus after a work trip in Poland in the Autumn of 2020 because she was identified as a witness in a criminal case about mass riots in Minsk and afraid to be detained.

Iryna Arakhouskaya dances at a concert by Belarusian rock band RSP in Warsaw. She worked as a photographer for Belsat media in Belarus, and was wounded when she was covering the protests in Minsk on August 9-11, 2020. She was not able to return home to her family in Belarus after a work trip in Poland in the Autumn of 2020 because she was identified as a witness in a criminal case about mass riots in Minsk and afraid to be detained.

A girl named Polina watches as dinner is being cooked at the House of Peace for Belarusian political refugees in Poland. On September 28, 2020, a unit of the counter-terrorist Alpha group raided an apartment on Yakubovskogo Street in Minsk. One resident, Andrei Zeltser, opened fire when a group of six security officers broke into his apartment. He mortally wounded a soldier before being killed by the security forces. His wife was detained. Polina's father Artyom had to leave the country after posting a comment online about the shootout. According to human rights activists, around 200 people who posted comments about the shootout have been prosecuted under Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official) and Article 130 of the Criminal Code (inciting social hatred).

A girl named Polina watches as dinner is being cooked at the House of Peace for Belarusian political refugees in Poland. On September 28, 2020, a unit of the counter-terrorist Alpha group raided an apartment on Yakubovskogo Street in Minsk. One resident, Andrei Zeltser, opened fire when a group of six security officers broke into his apartment. He mortally wounded a soldier before being killed by the security forces. His wife was detained. Polina's father Artyom had to leave the country after posting a comment online about the shootout. According to human rights activists, around 200 people who posted comments about the shootout have been prosecuted under Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official) and Article 130 of the Criminal Code (inciting social hatred).

The house of the Belarusian doctor, Valentin, who has been living in Poland since 1994. This house has become a haven for many Belarusians who have experienced problems long before the events of 2020.

The house of the Belarusian doctor, Valentin, who has been living in Poland since 1994. This house has become a haven for many Belarusians who have experienced problems long before the events of 2020.

I. (aged 17) was detained in Belarus in 2020 when he was 15 for administering one of the telegram channels with data on law enforcement officers. His age saved him from imprisonment and he was able to leave Belarus. He is now being taken care of by a Belarusian family who also had to leave the country.

I. (aged 17) was detained in Belarus in 2020 when he was 15 for administering one of the telegram channels with data on law enforcement officers. His age saved him from imprisonment and he was able to leave Belarus. He is now being taken care of by a Belarusian family who also had to leave the country.

Twelve-year-old German Schastny on his way to his new school in Bialystok, Poland. German and his father Alexander were forced to leave Belarus in November 2020 and move to Ukraine after the arrest of German’s mother, Irina Schastnaya. In October 2021, German and his father then moved to Bialystok, where they found shelter with a former cellmate of German's mother, Irena Bernadskaya. Irina is an activist and editor of popular telegram channels, including ‘Maya Kraina Belarus’. She was detained on November 18, 2020, by officers of the Investigative Committee, disguised as employees of public utilities. On November 27, 2020, Irina was charged under Part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code (Participation in Mass Riots). On May 25, 2021, Irina was sentenced to four years in a general regime colony by the Mogilev Regional Court. The trial was held behind closed doors, because, as the court explains, “the case materials refer to a secret protected by the law”.

Twelve-year-old German Schastny on his way to his new school in Bialystok, Poland. German and his father Alexander were forced to leave Belarus in November 2020 and move to Ukraine after the arrest of German’s mother, Irina Schastnaya. In October 2021, German and his father then moved to Bialystok, where they found shelter with a former cellmate of German's mother, Irena Bernadskaya. Irina is an activist and editor of popular telegram channels, including ‘Maya Kraina Belarus’. She was detained on November 18, 2020, by officers of the Investigative Committee, disguised as employees of public utilities. On November 27, 2020, Irina was charged under Part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code (Participation in Mass Riots). On May 25, 2021, Irina was sentenced to four years in a general regime colony by the Mogilev Regional Court. The trial was held behind closed doors, because, as the court explains, “the case materials refer to a secret protected by the law”.

Andrei holds his new-born daughter. Andrei’s wife Polina was sentenced to one and a half years of open prison, and Andrei to one and a half years in a penal colony for participating in protests in Brest. At the time of the verdict, the family already had two small children, aged three and six, with Polina expecting their third. Realising they would no longer be able to look after their children, who would probably be sent to an orphanage, Polina, still pregnant, and Andrei decided to flee Belarus and crossed the border on foot through the forest.

Andrei holds his new-born daughter. Andrei’s wife Polina was sentenced to one and a half years of open prison, and Andrei to one and a half years in a penal colony for participating in protests in Brest. At the time of the verdict, the family already had two small children, aged three and six, with Polina expecting their third. Realising they would no longer be able to look after their children, who would probably be sent to an orphanage, Polina, still pregnant, and Andrei decided to flee Belarus and crossed the border on foot through the forest.

Famous Belarusian skier Siarhei Dalidovich and his family in their temporary apartment in Warsaw after moving from Belarus. They decided to leave Belarus with the whole family and start a new life in Poland after the Belarus Ski Federation banned one of his daughters from skiing. The ban was seen as pressure on her father, who had spoken openly about the events taking place in Belarus.

Famous Belarusian skier Siarhei Dalidovich and his family in their temporary apartment in Warsaw after moving from Belarus. They decided to leave Belarus with the whole family and start a new life in Poland after the Belarus Ski Federation banned one of his daughters from skiing. The ban was seen as pressure on her father, who had spoken openly about the events taking place in Belarus.

Pavel Kukhta is one of the coordinators of the Belarusian volunteer battalion in Ukraine, named after Kastus Kalinouski, helping with the dispatch of Belarusian volunteer fighters to Ukraine, as well as humanitarian cargo and necessary equipment. He is 25 years old, but already has military experience. At the age of 18, Pavel left school and Belarus for Ukraine to fight against the Russians in the Donbas. His brother died in August 2020 during the Belarus uprising.

Pavel Kukhta is one of the coordinators of the Belarusian volunteer battalion in Ukraine, named after Kastus Kalinouski, helping with the dispatch of Belarusian volunteer fighters to Ukraine, as well as humanitarian cargo and necessary equipment. He is 25 years old, but already has military experience. At the age of 18, Pavel left school and Belarus for Ukraine to fight against the Russians in the Donbas. His brother died in August 2020 during the Belarus uprising.

Arseny Sinyak and his father Yevgeny came to the Belarusian house in Warsaw, where the recruiting centre for Kalinouski Regiment volunteer fighters is based. They were involved in a criminal case related to the events of September 13, 2020 in Brest, when protesters took to the streets, started dancing in a circle and were dispersed by water cannon. On June 8, 2021, Arseny and his father were sentenced to two years of restricted freedom and sentenced to an open-type correctional institution. Almost immediately after the announcement, they fled the country with Arseny’s girlfriend, as well as his mother, who was also involved in the case.

Arseny Sinyak and his father Yevgeny came to the Belarusian house in Warsaw, where the recruiting centre for Kalinouski Regiment volunteer fighters is based. They were involved in a criminal case related to the events of September 13, 2020 in Brest, when protesters took to the streets, started dancing in a circle and were dispersed by water cannon. On June 8, 2021, Arseny and his father were sentenced to two years of restricted freedom and sentenced to an open-type correctional institution. Almost immediately after the announcement, they fled the country with Arseny’s girlfriend, as well as his mother, who was also involved in the case.

Christina and her husband spend their last moments together at the Kalinouski Regiment's volunteer fighter recruiting centre in Warsaw, before her husband is sent to war in Ukraine. Later in summer 2022, she went to Ukraine and joined the Kalinouski Regiment as a press secretary.

Christina and her husband spend their last moments together at the Kalinouski Regiment's volunteer fighter recruiting centre in Warsaw, before her husband is sent to war in Ukraine. Later in summer 2022, she went to Ukraine and joined the Kalinouski Regiment as a press secretary.

Matvey plays a shooter game at one of the shelters organised with the support of Belarusians and Poles in Warsaw. He and his large Belarusian family (mother, father, brother and two sisters) were forced to leave for Ukraine after the events of 2020 in Belarus. At the beginning of the war, they were in Bucha, near Kyiv, where they spent 13 days until they decided to leave and found a way to be evacuated. Before the war, Matvey's mother Tatyana and the whole family had to flee Belarus due to political persecution for their active participation in the 2020 protests.

Matvey plays a shooter game at one of the shelters organised with the support of Belarusians and Poles in Warsaw. He and his large Belarusian family (mother, father, brother and two sisters) were forced to leave for Ukraine after the events of 2020 in Belarus. At the beginning of the war, they were in Bucha, near Kyiv, where they spent 13 days until they decided to leave and found a way to be evacuated. Before the war, Matvey's mother Tatyana and the whole family had to flee Belarus due to political persecution for their active participation in the 2020 protests.

My parents Alexander and Tamara sleeping on a sofa in the kitchen of their small Warsaw rental apartment. They had not seen me for almost a year since I left Belarus for Poland and came to visit for a few days. Due to security reasons I cannot return to Belarus. Almost all of those who took an active part in the protests, whether they volunteered, were activists or independent journalists, were persecuted in Belarus and either fled or cannot return for fear of arrest. Their relatives do not always have the opportunity to leave Belarus due to the difficulties in obtaining visas and being able to travel, as well as age and health problems.

My parents Alexander and Tamara sleeping on a sofa in the kitchen of their small Warsaw rental apartment. They had not seen me for almost a year since I left Belarus for Poland and came to visit for a few days. Due to security reasons I cannot return to Belarus. Almost all of those who took an active part in the protests, whether they volunteered, were activists or independent journalists, were persecuted in Belarus and either fled or cannot return for fear of arrest. Their relatives do not always have the opportunity to leave Belarus due to the difficulties in obtaining visas and being able to travel, as well as age and health problems.

Nasta Bazar (right) and her wife Dasha (left) in Krakow. Feminist and grassroots activist Nasta left Belarus for Kyiv in 2020 with her family. Shortly before the start of the war she moved to Poland. Nasta's main area of activism is protecting the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Nasta volunteered from the very beginning of the war in Ukraine and has tried to focus on helping women who have suffered from sexualised violence.

Nasta Bazar (right) and her wife Dasha (left) in Krakow. Feminist and grassroots activist Nasta left Belarus for Kyiv in 2020 with her family. Shortly before the start of the war she moved to Poland. Nasta's main area of activism is protecting the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Nasta volunteered from the very beginning of the war in Ukraine and has tried to focus on helping women who have suffered from sexualised violence.

A fighter of the Kalinouski Regiment, nicknamed "Chili", and his cat at the regiment in Kyiv. "Chili" is a Belarusian who has been living in Ukraine for 15 years. He and his wife were in Lviv when the war broke out. They decided to move to Kyiv, and turn the apartment in Lviv into a temporary base for refugees.

A fighter of the Kalinouski Regiment, nicknamed "Chili", and his cat at the regiment in Kyiv. "Chili" is a Belarusian who has been living in Ukraine for 15 years. He and his wife were in Lviv when the war broke out. They decided to move to Kyiv, and turn the apartment in Lviv into a temporary base for refugees.

Natalya Suslova, whose son Pavel “Volat”, commander of the reconnaissance company of the Kalinouski Regiment, was killed fighting in Ukraine, at the regiment's base in Kyiv. After the death of her son in May 2022, Natalya came to Ukraine from Belarus and joined the Kalinouski Regiment. As part of the “Terror” battalion, which is part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, she entered Kherson and was among the first during its liberation. In Belarus, she actively participated in peaceful protests in 2020, was detained by the police, and was held in detention for several days.

Natalya Suslova, whose son Pavel “Volat”, commander of the reconnaissance company of the Kalinouski Regiment, was killed fighting in Ukraine, at the regiment's base in Kyiv. After the death of her son in May 2022, Natalya came to Ukraine from Belarus and joined the Kalinouski Regiment. As part of the “Terror” battalion, which is part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, she entered Kherson and was among the first during its liberation. In Belarus, she actively participated in peaceful protests in 2020, was detained by the police, and was held in detention for several days.

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A woman with flowers, near the gate of the Okrestina detention centre in Minsk, waiting for the famous basketball player Elena Leuchanka to be released after 15 days of detention. The prison is known as a detention centre for Belarusian opposition activists arrested during mass protests against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko. According to numerous reports, many protesters arrested during the 2020 Belarusian protests were tortured in Okrestina. Many were beaten and in some cases seriously injured. At least three detainees suffered injuries indicative of sexual violence in Okrestina or on the way there. The victims were hospitalised with intramuscular bleeding of the rectum, anal fissure and bleeding, and damage to the mucous membrane of the rectum.

A woman with flowers, near the gate of the Okrestina detention centre in Minsk, waiting for the famous basketball player Elena Leuchanka to be released after 15 days of detention. The prison is known as a detention centre for Belarusian opposition activists arrested during mass protests against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko. According to numerous reports, many protesters arrested during the 2020 Belarusian protests were tortured in Okrestina. Many were beaten and in some cases seriously injured. At least three detainees suffered injuries indicative of sexual violence in Okrestina or on the way there. The victims were hospitalised with intramuscular bleeding of the rectum, anal fissure and bleeding, and damage to the mucous membrane of the rectum.

Levon plays at home with his son Miki, after spending 7 months in a pre-trial detention centre waiting to be sent to a correctional facility a few months later. Levon Khalatran was a volunteer at opposition figure Viktar Babaryka's campaign headquarters. He was detained on August 11, 2020 under the "rioting case" (Article 293 of the Criminal Code). On February 19, 2021, Levon Khalatran was sentenced to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility (so-called "khimiya"). Levon served his sentence in full and was released on May 21, 2022.

Levon plays at home with his son Miki, after spending 7 months in a pre-trial detention centre waiting to be sent to a correctional facility a few months later. Levon Khalatran was a volunteer at opposition figure Viktar Babaryka's campaign headquarters. He was detained on August 11, 2020 under the "rioting case" (Article 293 of the Criminal Code). On February 19, 2021, Levon Khalatran was sentenced to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility (so-called "khimiya"). Levon served his sentence in full and was released on May 21, 2022.

Cultural activist Ksenya Tyrsik said goodbye to her parents and a dozen friends at the railway station in Minsk and got on a train to Moscow, and from there on a plane to Vilnius. She was forced to leave Belarus urgently, shortly after serving a 15-day detention under administrative arrest on the pretext of participating in an unsanctioned mass event and disobedience towards police officers. The threat of a criminal case for organising protest actions hung over her, although she was not involved in this. Many people who were active have been ousted from the country. From August 9, 2020 to the present day, more than 160,000 Belarusians have left the country. More and more far-fetched criminal cases are initiated to intimidate people.

Cultural activist Ksenya Tyrsik said goodbye to her parents and a dozen friends at the railway station in Minsk and got on a train to Moscow, and from there on a plane to Vilnius. She was forced to leave Belarus urgently, shortly after serving a 15-day detention under administrative arrest on the pretext of participating in an unsanctioned mass event and disobedience towards police officers. The threat of a criminal case for organising protest actions hung over her, although she was not involved in this. Many people who were active have been ousted from the country. From August 9, 2020 to the present day, more than 160,000 Belarusians have left the country. More and more far-fetched criminal cases are initiated to intimidate people.

A screening in Warsaw of Aleksey Poluyan's film Courage was dedicated to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of political leader Maria Kalesnikava and lawyer Maksim Znak. The event was organised in coordination with Tatyana Khomich, Maria Kalesnikava’s sister. She is now fighting for the release of her sister and thousands of other political prisoners in Belarus, participating in initiatives to support them, as well as drawing public attention to this issue throughout the world. On December 31, 2022, 1,446 people in Belarus were considered to be political prisoners.

A screening in Warsaw of Aleksey Poluyan's film Courage was dedicated to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of political leader Maria Kalesnikava and lawyer Maksim Znak. The event was organised in coordination with Tatyana Khomich, Maria Kalesnikava’s sister. She is now fighting for the release of her sister and thousands of other political prisoners in Belarus, participating in initiatives to support them, as well as drawing public attention to this issue throughout the world. On December 31, 2022, 1,446 people in Belarus were considered to be political prisoners.