How the family of the missing ex-Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus has lived for 20 years.
Alena, the daughter of the former Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus Yury Zakharanka, fled to Germany with her mother, sister and son at the age of 24. She left the studies at the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the work as a juvenile inspector, and a happy family in the past, writes Hanna Sous, a journalist at Radio Svaboda.
The confessions of former SOBR fighter Garavski have disturbed the wound that will never heal, says the 44-year-old woman. Alena Zakharanka, for the first time, gave a large interview about the enforced disappearance of her father, and how their family has been living in Germany for almost 20 years.
“For five years, we hoped that he was left alive”
It was difficult to arrange an interview with Alena Zakharanka. The woman works almost seven days a week. In the end, Alena got a day off, and we started talking about the film authored by Deutsche Welle, in which Yuri Garavski, who called himself a fighter of the Belarusian “death squad”, told how he participated in the abduction and murder of Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski 20 years ago under the command of Dzmitry Paulichenka.
- Those interviews with the former SOBR fighter affected the spiritual state of our family. For five years, our family was not sure that father had been indeed killed. Deep in our souls, we hoped that perhaps he had been left alive. Like in a game, when the ace is left last. There was a hope that he would be held in some KGB prison. Then we became a little more realistic, the hope died.
Fifteen years passed, and we read on the Internet (it seems that Baradach wrote this) that father’s death was not quick, that he was tortured, his hands and tongue were cut off. Then we broke ... even envied the dead, even the Karpenka family, who were able to bury their loved one. Such emotional state lasted until this person, the former SOBR man, gave an interview to Deutsche Welle. I hope it is true that he was killed quickly. It was a little relief. I want a criminal case based on specific documentary facts, so that there is a trial. Not sure if this can be carried out now.
“We have a broken life. 20 years have gone into the abyss”
- How has your family lived for more than 20 years after you asked for political asylum in Germany? How is your mother, sister? How do the grandchildren of Yury Zakharanka live?
- We have a broken life. 20 years have gone into the abyss. These horrid events will be with us for the rest of our lives. Not to say goodbye, and not to find out how everything that really happened, to live, knowing that the guilty are at large, that the guilty are in power, that they have created their own kin, identical people who surround them ... Impunity creates new crimes.
All our life in Germany is connected with our past. It is very difficult to restore a normal life, to come to terms with the inevitable. We are constantly pulled back to what happened 20 years ago. Mother, my sister Yulia with her son Dzianis, my son Kiryl and I live in Münster. We came here 20 years ago, and stayed here.
My son is in school. Mom is retired, she is already about 70 years old. I work as a sales assistant. Morally, we are “killed” by our past. My sister Yulia is “lost” here, she is still emotionally depressed. I can’t say anything positive about us.
- Could you integrate into the German society? I understand that it was difficult for your mother, but for you and your son?
- And it's hard for me, too. My son was one year old when we arrived here. I told him about his grandfather, but my son does not understand how this could happen in the center of Europe.
We live in a democratic country where everyone can express their opinion and it is taken into account, where opponents are not destroyed.
My son cannot understand that in our times, when there is no war, such terrible events can occur.
“We must struggle for our life in Germany. This is a foreign country, a foreign language, culture”
- Do you keep in touch with the relatives of other missing people? With the families of Krasouski, Hanchar?
- And with whom do you keep in touch in Belarus?
- No one. When father was in the opposition and just greeted former employees, they were fired the next day. We then became persons non grata in Belarus. With whom can you keep in touch when people are afraid, think about their life and existence in Belarus? The regime brought alone fear. We must remain in our family and struggle for our life in Germany. We fight as we can. This is a foreign country, a foreign language, culture, mentality. No matter how long you live in a foreign land, you will never be like them. We have completely different souls and thoughts.
- Who supported you during all these years in Germany?
- Some friends. There are Germans who understand us. Until now, a woman who knows the situation helps mother.
- And what did the German state give you as political refugees? Housing, language courses …?
- Yes. Me and my son are German citizens. Mom does not want or need it. Sister doesn't want it either. My son needed to get an education, and this is a big minus if there is no citizenship, but only a residence permit.
“There is no police in Belarus to protect their people”
- In Belarus, you worked in the police. What do you think about the current police?
- Everything that happens in Belarus, and many think so, this is a reserve of lawlessness. There are no police to defend the people, the police are a weapon to fight the people. I can’t say anything positive about the law-enforcement bodies of Belarus.
Now, before the presidential “election” they might show how “criminal” my father was. They may all come up with a criminal case. I'm waiting for this. There will be witnesses and false facts. There will be juggling to disgrace me, my family and father. It happened so that our father left us, but he did not leave Belarus. We are paying for this, my family is paying for this, it is a chronic pain, the wound is bleeding constantly.
“We are not given the opportunity to do anything with the Minsk apartment”
- Recently, in Minsk, I passed near the house where you lived. It can be seen that the apartment is non-residential, old windows stand out among the neighbors. What about this four-room apartment? Is it possible to sell, lease it? Perhaps you are still thinking of returning, and it will come in handy when you are home?
- This is nonsense when a person after 20 years of being missing is not recognized as dead. We have no right to inherit. Despite the numerous court hearings, we are not given the opportunity to do anything with the apartment. We hang in the air, the apartment hangs in the air. The criminal case is not open. And we do not hope that it will be revealed under the power of these people.
- What do you think, how could your fate turn out, if not for May 7, 1999?
- If this tragedy had not happened, nothing negative would have happened to us in life. And so we ourselves, women, had to fight for our lives in a foreign land. This is a very difficult fate. We never wanted to be here. Everything here was alien to us. What would happen in Belarus? Father was our guardian angel. He is now my guardian angel. If he were alive, he would do everything so that we would not suffer.
- Have you thought about revenge? About punishment for those who did this?
“Maybe this is incomprehensible to them, but the time will come for every falsifier, accomplice, who were there when they were killing my father.”
They will be left alone with their conscience.
They will be haunted by blood, the last breath of the victims, the tears of my grandmother, the tears of our entire family, our 20-year-old lost life, our pain. It will not go just like that for the killers.
“My son dreams of serving in the German army”
- Has Germany become your second homeland? What is your personal life like here?
- I work full time, almost seven days a week. I have very little time for personal life. My personal life is my son. We talk, I help him, morally support him. My son dreams of serving in the German army. We do not yet know the results, but we hope that it works out. Kiryl is now 21 years old.
I don’t know who could integrate in Germany without consequences. It was difficult for us, now it is difficult, and probably it will be difficult. We are aliens, impulsive, cordial, deeply worried. This is not characteristic of everyone, but we are. We are considered Russians here, because we speak Russian. Many Germans do not know where Belarus is on the map.
In Belarus, I studied at the Police Academy; I worked as a juvenile inspector for a year and a half. Life abroad had to start from scratch - to learn a language, to learn a new profession. My sister Yulia is not working. Not all migrants work here. Financially, it does not really matter. I myself pay for an apartment and for my existence, but if a person is unemployed, then the state does it.
My sister lives separately, and my mother is also ten minutes walk from my house. We support each other. Mom does not want to talk about the past events, because it is very difficult for her. She is already aged, she wants to live a little. And I can’t ... I had a dream when I held dad's hand, didn’t want to wake up, I said: “Dad, at least I can feel you.” There are few destinies like ours. We do not have the opportunity to bury our father, to arrange decent funeral. His soul is now between heaven and earth. He suffers for us.
- What did you feel when you watched Garavski’s interview?
- When this fighter told how the murder happened, I imagined what my father was thinking at that moment. He did not think of himself. He thought of us, how we would be left without him. He left us and went nowhere without the right to burial. How many years did he work in the law-enforcement system, how many years did he struggle with crime? He said that “the junta came to power,” and these criminals destroyed him.
I believe that someday there will be a fair trial, an international tribunal, but will we see this? Evil is very active, it goes forward and does not look back. Evil has great power. The kind, the warmhearted cannot afford what villains can. According to father, they are not fools, they are rascals. And these non-fools will now do everything to disgrace my family. They will do everything to show the Belarusian people that these people were not destroyed for political reasons.
- Would you like to return to Belarus?
- I can't say that. My son, one might say, is already German. He does not understand our jokes, he is a little less emotional in comparison with me. He does not imagine life outside Germany. He wants to make a career here. And I'm very fond of him. The character of Kiryl is very similar to the character of my father. People like my father are very rare. These are special, classic people. They never go away, they always remain relevant. These are serious fighters for their people. It may sound pathetic, but these are patriots, that are born once a century.