Following the conversation, the former Interior Minister's daughter is sure that he is telling the truth.
"I never thought that I would meet an accomplice to my father's murder", - Alena Zakharanka says quietly. That night before her flight to Zurich, she had not slept at all. Pale, having taken a handful of valerian pills this morning, Alena is standing at the door, behind which the former SOBR fighter Yury Harauski is waiting for her, Deutsche Welle reports.
Harauski's confession of complicity in the murder of opposition activists
A few weeks before the meeting, Yury Harauski, former fighter of the Special Police Unit of the Interior Ministry of Belarus (SOBR), confessed that he had participated in abducting and killing Alena's father, former Interior Minister of Belarus Yury Zakharanka, as well as the former head of the Central Election Commission Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. In the late 1990s, these people opposed Lukashenka. In 1999, first Zakharanka, then Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared without a trace. The investigation of their disappearance was not completed, Zakharanka is still not declared dead officially.
Yury Zakharanka's daughter asked to meet with Harauski herself. It was important for her to look into his eyes - she was sure that she would be able to understand if he was telling the truth. "We believed for a long time that they were killing the father slowly, dismembering him. It was unbearable. I need to know that it happened quickly. At least I will somehow calm my soul down," - Alena explains.
44-year-old Alena Zakharanka is a calm, melancholic woman with light, almost colorless eyes. Her dark hair is neatly styled, her face has a makeup that is unusually thorough for Germany. She has been living here for 20 years - after her father disappeared, Alena, together with her younger sister, mother and son, was granted political asylum in Germany.
Former Minister Yury Zakharanka was preparing for a possible arrest
"Certainly, one could feel that he was a military man, - Alena says about her father, sitting in his kitchen the day before meeting with Harauski. - He even used to give orders to us, at home: to iron it all, to do this or that, "I'll come and check". But he had a very kind heart, and we used to take advantage of it". Alena looks like her father not only in appearance: "I inherited his command voice". However, she says it slowly and with tears - she cannot speak in a different way about the tragedy that broke her life.
Yury Zakharanka was preparing his family for that something could happen to him, but he did not want to leave politics anyway. Former Interior Minister of Belarus, who was initially supporting Lukashenka, at that time had already become one of the opposition leaders and tried to remove Lukashenka, whom he considered a dictator, from power.
Zakharanka saw that he was being watched. One day he intentionally drove into a blind alley, opened the door of the car that was following him and said: "Bad work, guys." There were very young guys sitting in the car, he then told his wife and children.
However, the politician thought that he would be arrested, put in jail, but not killed, his daughter is convinced. For a long time after Zakharanka disappeared, the family believed that he was still alive. "It was, of course, my grandmother who suffered the worst. For 20 years she used to run with hope to the window when someone was knocking, thinking it might be him. 20 years! And when she was dying, her last word was his name. She was crying: "Yura!", - Alena remembers.
There are no pictures of her father on the walls of her apartment on the outskirts of German Munster: "I look at the photos very rarely, because it hurts. Instead of the coffin, instead of the monument, I only have my father's watch, which has long been out of order".
What kind of life had she had before all those events? "A happy one, what more could it be?" - Alena shrugs her shoulders indifferently. On the eve of the meeting with the fighter, who claims that he was involved in the murder of her father, she does not want to talk about the good. She is surprised that someone else is laughing, that there are carefree passers-by in the street and she envies that someone can live like that.
Elena's scared before the trip, and she's not comfortable. However, she believes that talking to Harauski is the only chance to know the truth: "I'm not going to call to his conscience, I'm not coming with war. I understand that he found himself in the maelstrom of the police system. He didn't have a way out. I don't blame him."
Yury Harauski, former SOBR fighter, before his meeting with Alena Zakharanka
41-year-old Yury Harauski is a big man, two meters tall. He obviously has a broken nose, visible scar and a dent near his right eyebrow. He limps a lot, but he's glad he can walk at all. In Switzerland, where he fled from Belarus in late 2018, he underwent surgery on his hip, shattered by a car accident - he believes that they tried to kill him. Harauski is worried about whether he'll be given asylum and outraged that local officials doubt his involvement in the killings of the Belarusian opposition activists - they say he's retelling a detective story.
Yury Harauski agreed to the meeting with Alena Zakharanka not straightaway: he was afraid that she would "pounce on him, start blaming". But then he changed his mind: "In the movie (a documentary film by DW, shot on the basis of the interview with Harauski. - Ed.), she said that the fault is not mine, but that of the system. It's true. I was 20 years old at the time. I didn't initiate the murder of her father." This thought obviously makes him feel better - the fact that he was just a screw in the system, Yury will say more than once this day: "I already knew at that time that it was a crime. I understood that if I was silent, I would continue to live. So I was silent."
Harauski is the first to arrive at the Zurich editorial office of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, which has provided an office to meet with Alena. In front of the entrance he gets nervous - he confusedly asks to make sure that Zakharanka keeps her hands on the table: "Just in case, she might bring a nail file with her." But there are only chairs, Alena and Yury will sit one and a half meters away from each other in the presence of several journalists. The order is simple: both he and she can stop communicating at any time.
Harauski's meeting with the daughter of murdered Minister Zakharanka
Finally, Harauski is told that Alena is already here and standing outside the door. There is a heavy silence in the room, it seems, she will never come in here. But Alena is coming in. Noticeably tense, Zakharanka puts her bag on the floor, looks around and sits down. She sighs heavily, raises her eyes and starts talking: "You were the last one to see my father. I trust you. I believe in your story."
Elena wants to know everything - how her father was watched, how he was abducted, killed. Harauski, looking out from from under the brows, lists: this is how Zakharanka was rounded up, cuffed from behind, put in the car with his head down between the seats. They quietly drove out of the city - the radio was playing. They took him out of the car, put him on the ground, SOBR founder Dzmitry Paulichenka shot him twice. We loaded him in the trunk on the already prepared waterproof cloth, took him to the crematorium, burned him ... Elena listens steadfastly and continues to ask questions - during the conversation she never cries.
- You said that Dad was under surveillance.
- We'd just come to the house and watched where who would be placed. We were watching, checking his arrival time, how long it took him to get from the parking lot to the house. Ten minutes. We were supposed to manage in those 10 minutes. But the very moment of your father's detention, his loading into the car - it was 20-30 seconds.
- What did you see? Was he always alone?
- One time he was standing there talking to the guard in the parking lot for 10-15 minutes.
- It's true. He used to talk to him a lot. I always thought that my father was dismembered, cut into pieces...
- No, no, and not again. It took about four or five hours for everything to happen. Do you think it would be possible to kill him, burn the body, come to the base within that time? When were we supposed to torture your father? And what were we supposed to find out?
- He must have had some kind of damaging information.
- I don't know about that, we haven't been told anything about him at all. Just "to find his way around," "to follow him around."
-To kill a man, and then walk, laugh... They say if you want to shoot, don't look the victim in the eyes...
- No one was looking. He was put face down. He was shot in the back, your father, as well as Hanchar and Krasouski. They were all shot in the back.
- And did you know that we were suffering? Did you see the press reports? Did you hear my grandmother cry?
- To protect yourself, you shouldn't watch that. I heard about your grandmother, about what they wrote about her. But I wasn't keeping a close watch on it.
- You were detaining him, can you tell how tall he was?
- That's his height (he points to the operator behind Alena. - Ed.) The build of a decent, withy man. And his hands were big enough.
- The kind that you have...
The conversation has been lasting for two hours already. From the outside it may seem that this is a polite conversation of people who do not know each other very well, but its content is terrible. "And if my mother was with my father at that moment, would it be the same with her?" - Alena asks monotonously. "Probably, yes," - Yury says after a short pause. When he hears from her how Zakharanka noticed the surveillance, he smiles and gives out the surnames of the colleagues, who were blown then. He has already heard this story - he heard it from them 20 years ago.
At some point, Harauski shouts out: "Break, break!" and with difficulty gets up from his seat. The long sitting makes his operated leg sick. Standing there, he shows Alena a map: "Here is the Valoushchyna shooting range", "here is the entrance", "your father was killed on this road". Alena asks to look her in the eyes and swear by the dearest thing that it is true. "I swear by my daughter's health," - Harauski reacts immediately.
This meeting is over. When Yury gets out into the street, he smokes, his eyes glisten. "I'm like a sucked orange," - he says. He is angry that he could not answer all the questions - he no longer remembers what Zakharanka was wearing, how the houses were located. "I understand that I am, one can say, the murderer of their father, husband, son. I did not say that I had watched the video in the media how their grandmother went to the cemetery and was talking about her son: "I don't know where you are, what you are." I saw it all," - he confesses.
Alena goes the opposite way. She has asked Yury everything she wanted and is absolutely sure that Harauski is not lying. But it didn't make her feel any better: "I was looking into his eyes, and he was looking into mine too. I felt an infinite sense of guilt from his side. But it's very hard, the after-pains. It's hard for me to realise it, to think about it," - she explains. Alena Zakharanka hopes that after confessing complicity in the murders the former SOBR fighter will survive. She hopes that he will say the same thing in court. Harauski told her he's ready, and he s ready to serve time for these crimes. But not in Belarus, in Europe.
They both - independently from each other - react in the same way to the suggestion to get some sleep and recover. Neither Yury Harauski nor Alena Zakharanka will be able to recover for a long time after this conversation.