The street action Chernobyl Way was held in Minsk on 26 April. More than 2000 people attended the demonstration. The people carried EU and national white-red-white flags and shouted slogans “No to nuclear plant construction!”, “Spare our land!”, “We are against atomic reactor.”
The main demands of the demonstrators is that the authorities don’t hush up consciences of the accident on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, return social privileges to liquidators and victims, don’t construct a nuclear plant in Belarus.
Initially, the rally was planned to be held from the Academy of Sciences to Independence Square, where a meeting was to be held near the House of Parliament. The city authorities forbade the rally to the main square, but allowed to gather near the Academy of Sciences. The participants of the Chernobyl Way were offered to walk along Surhanau Street to the Park of People’s Friendship on the outskirts of Minsk.
After the negotiations the applicants for the rally accepted the route offered by the authorities. At 2.00pm, when some thousands of people gathered near the Academy of Sciences, opposition leaders, scientists, human rights and public activists had a meeting. Lyudmila Hraznova, one of the activists of the United Civil Party, called on the participants of the action to pay tribute to the memory of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power station by one-minute silence. Lyavon Barshcheuski, chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front party, spoke to the participants of the Charnobyl Way. He said Maris Luisa Beck, a German member European Parliament, had sent her greetings to them. She noted in her greeting that the situation in Belarus would always be in the center of attention of the European Union. Calls to release immediately political prisoners Alyaksandr Kazulin, Syarhei Parsyukevich, Andrei Kim could be heard at the meeting. By the way, daughters of the former candidate for presidency in Belarus came to the action with a big poster “Freedom for Alyaksandr Kazulin!”
When the meeting was over, it was found out that not all of the organising committee members were going to follow the route, “imposed by the authorities,” as they said. Alyaksandr Milinkevich, head of the Charnobyl Way organising committee, leader of the ”For Freedom!” movement, said he wouldn’t go to Park of Peoples’ Friendship. He said he had already attended the chapel, constructed in memory of the Charnobyl victims, in the morning of 26 April, laid flowers and lighted a candle there. He offered that other participants of the rally should go to Park of Peoples’ Friendship. In the interview to the Charter’97 press center he said he wouldn’t go to the park because he is going to stand to his principles: “Once I said I would never go to Banhalor Square, and I am going to keep my word,” Milinkevich stressed.
Then the United Civil party refused to continue participation in the Chernobyl Way. Soon after the meeting near the Academy of Science ended, representatives of the UCP headed by their leader Anatol Lyabedzka put out of sight their streamers and flags. “We are not going to take part ion the rally imposed by the regime to us,” Anatol Lyabedzka said, meaning the rout of the demonstration from the Academy of Sciences towards the Park of Nation’s Friendship.
However, the rally continued by a march first along Independence Avenue, and then along Surhanau Street. In the head of the column demonstrators were carrying the icon of Our Lady of Chernobyl and a huge streamer “The Chernobyl Way”. Other streamers were seen in the column, “Spare our land!”, “From exclusion zone to coercion zone?”, “No to construction of nuclear power station!”, “We are against atomic reactor”, “1986. Future under threat”. People were carrying plates with names of their towns: Rahachou, Homel, Zhytkavichy, Karma, Rechytsa and others. Participants of the demonstration were chanting “Long live Belarus!”, “Loing live Euroepan Belarus!”, “There is no peaceful atom”, “No to nuclear power station!” Many participants have closed their faces with bandanas with the sign of radiation and were beating drums.
However, the authorities broke agreement with organizers of the rally. As the Charter’97 press-center was informed by one of the applicants for holding the Chernobyl Way Uladzimir Labkovich, the organizers of the rally had agreed with police chiefs that traffic policemen would block off traffic for the whole period of the column of demonstrators.
However, traffic policemen hadn’t blocked off the traffic on Independence Avenue and crossings. Protesters were to wait for the green light, and the column was divided into three parts because of that. People moved along Surhanau Street for about an hour and a half, as people were mostly standing than walking.
Besides, participants of the march didn’t have enough place at sidewalks for them. People were walking tight to each other. But cars of traffic police were standing along sidewalks preventing people from stepping outside to traffic area. Considering the hot weather in Minsk today, it was rather tormenting to walk this way, especially for elderly people.
Only by 5 p.m. protesters reached the final point of their route, to the Church in honour of the icon of Our Lady “Seeking of the lost” dedicated to the memory of liquidators of Chernobyl catastrophe. People prayed there, lit candles for all those who died in the result of the awful man-made disaster.