All those responsible for the crimes will be held accountable.
Two months have passed since the death of political prisoner, activist from Biarozauka Vitold Ashurak, who died under unclear circumstances in the Shklou colony. The investigation into his death is still going on, and the family does not believe that it will reveal more than the initially announced official version: his heart stopped. "The current period of life is the hardest for us," admits Vitold's brother Andrei, reports Nasha Niva.
- How have you lived these months without Vitold?
- Vitold had not been with us for a long time: he spent a lot of time in jail(from September to May). Sometimes it feels like he's still there. And then you come to the cemetery and realize: no, he's not. When a close person you grew up with for almost 50 years is taken away from you, it's hard. Time certainly does its work: at all events, the emotions fade. It still hurts, but life moves on. And we have to live with the fact that Vitold is no longer with us. My favorite job helps me a lot to forget it: first, you work at the construction site and then there are things to do at home, and my head is full of them.
It's harder for my mother and my wife. The first one once said that all that is left for her to do is cry. Sometimes I plan to go to the cemetery alone. And from afar I see that my mother is also going there. Especially since the cemetery isn't far from her house.
Fresh flowers appear there all the time. It seems that yesterday they were not there, and today they are there. People come there to pay their respects, because Vitold was a famous person. Recently a new wreath appeared: "To Vitold - To the Hero of Belarus from the Patriots of Pre-Trial Detention Center №1". Even those whose mindset differs from ours (although they are few in number, only 3%) continue to express their condolences to us.
Anyway, I somehow caught myself thinking: I am 48, and Vitold was 50, and the things that have happened over the years! Sometimes it was so hard that it was hard to imagine the worst. And I'll be honest with you: this is the hardest period of our lives. We were crying when Raman Bandarenka was killed. Our hearts were bleeding for Taraikouski and Shutau - for all of them. But no one could have thought that the grief would happen so close to us.
- Were there any condolences from official structures?
- No, of course not. You know what kind of system it is. In private conversations, even policemen would offer their condolences. And they would ask me, "How could this happen?" How did it happen that a man had a healthy heart and it stopped? How did it happen that they didn't give us the body right away? How did it happen that he fell and hurt his head? What happened before that? We still have no official answers to these questions.
But just before the funeral, the district attorney called me: "You know, we must get it go without any rallies. I told him that I, in turn, expected that it would go without arrests. Thank God, no one was arrested at the funeral.
- Do you see your brother in your dreams?
- I had a dream about Vitold about a month ago. As if he'd come to me on his bicycle - he was standing there, smiling. He didn't say anything. He was just smiling, like he always did, in his army jacket that he used to wear to work.
- At what stage is the investigation into Vitold's death?
- The Mahiliou regional department of the Investigative Committee is in charge of it. The first time I talked to the investigator was when I was taking away my brother's body. The second time was two weeks ago, when I came to get his things. There was a volume the size of "War and Peace" already written there, but the results of all examinations were allegedly not ready and it was impossible to make a conclusion. The investigator said that the check-up may last a long time, but I will call him and monitor the issue.
Looking at that investigator, I want to believe him, he inspires confidence. I have the impression that if he worked in a normal system, where the law is the same for everyone, he could be one of the most honest employees. However, we have a twisted system. And the official version of Vitold's death was announced in the first days - a sudden cardiac arrest. And that awful video was shown, we watched it a hundred times. It really shows Vitold, but in such a state that he can't control himself. And my main question is: What did you do to him, to a healthy man?
It's not certain that the final examination will answer that. Nor is it certain that we will get back our brother's diary, which was not given to us along with his other personal belongings. Vitold was always a word-painter and most likely he was describing everything he saw around him while in custody. Such a diary could long be destroyed. The only hope is for some sneaky comrade who might have hidden it carefully for the future.
- With the personal belongings you were given the letters that had been sent to Vitold. Have you looked them through?
- There are a lot of letters. Both from Belarus and from abroad. I am not able to read them yet. I have looked through some postcards, which were without envelopes. It's hard for me. It was all written to a live man. There's a lot in there saying that they're waiting for him, that Vitold did everything right, that he will not serve five years. No way. And we all know how that ended up...
I myself, by the way, hardly ever wrote to my brother. We agreed with him on a visitation in Hrodna, that I'd better come, we'd talk and laugh together. No matter how hard I tried, I failed to write neutrally even about the weather - I wrote only poems, with emotions, which no censor would ever allow.
- Weren't you ever afraid for yourself?
- I'm never afraid for myself - it's my life, I can manage it to my liking. There is, of course, my family and my obligations to them. There are some worries about my wife and sons. Though they are the main patriots of their country. My wife was the first one to organize the care packages when Vitold got into prison. She would make all the people happy willy-nilly, if it were possible.
Well, unfortunately, those not-too-distant times when people in Biarozauka used to come out to rallies every day are a thing of the past. So far, it is impossible - else you'll be in Lida in half an hour, in the police department. Yet, I can at least give interviews, all the people can repeat aloud what happened, remember. We mustn't let them relax: let them fidget and don't think that everything is forgiven.
- What kind of brother was Vitold?
- Sometimes we could even fight: what kind of brother are you if you didn't punch your brother in the nose when you were a kid? (laughs) But by and large we got on well. Even when the life scattered us, and we all had our own problems, we were always ready to help each other. My wife was teaching the children: "Look, what relations your father and uncle have, take an example". Whenever we were around, someone would always call the other one: "Put the kettle on, I'm coming! We'll drink coffee and talk."
Although we were similar in many ways, we were different: Vitold was a generator of ideas, and I was an implementer. Ideas were pouring out of him. As early as at the end of the 90s Vitold proposed rafting on the River Nioman, we were building rafts, almost ships. My brother was also working on all the projects, he prepared a whole folder of drawings. I had to implement the plans: where and what to take, who to negotiate with.
- What did this terrible tragedy reveal to you about Belarus and the Belarusians?
- I knew a lot about our system before, but the details turned out to be more awful. That the system is capable of killing even a convicted person. And if it's possible, there are people without honor, without conscience, without anything human in them.
On the other hand, after August I discovered the people's solidarity. I remember an old popular saying: one Belarusian is a partisan, two - a partisan squad, and three - a partisan squad plus a traitor. But it is absolutely wrong: the solidarity of the Belarusians knows no bounds. When as early as August 9, 2020, Vitold was detained near the city executive committee in Lida, and then, after the women in white came out, almost all the detainees were released and Vitold was not, those very women were shouting, "And Vitold? Let him out!" And when my brother and I were serving the time in the fall, it turned out that we had so many "cousins" who were sending us care packages! With that kind of solidarity, all must be well in the country. It's a shame that this goodness takes so long to come. And is given with such losses.
- Do you think that Vitold's death is a tough lesson for the system, and that such a tragedy in prisons won't happen again?
- I'd like to believe so. Especially taking into account my opinion: there was no order to kill Vitold, they just created such conditions, which drove him to a state of weakness. And after that he could not be shown on the visitations. These, of course, are my own thoughts. Considering the fact that today the law enforcers are given carte blanche, a promise that they will not be punished for any crime, I am afraid that the same situation could happen again, unfortunately.
I can't understand it, by the way. You have sentenced a man, he's already been punished, why do you keep mocking him? Vitold and I asked the same question to a security guard in the Lida detention center (at that time we were serving the time in the neighboring cells). The guard answered us: "The detainees should feel how shitty it is to be in jail". And I tried to explain that it's nonsense, because a person has already been arrested and his freedom is restricted - he already feels bad.
And they keep creating conditions in which it's difficult to survive, exhausting people with hunger and solitary confinement. Vitold was so thin when I came to collect him! And when we had our last meeting in Hrodna he was a normal 50 years old man, weighing over 70 kilos, athletically built.
In the future, all these events should be an inoculation for all of us. And, of course, to make sure this does not happen again, there must be a legal assessment of all the crimes that have been committed. The people who have made themselves guilty of beatings, murders, violations of the law, everything inhuman, must be punished. All government agencies must be reformed; their activities must become transparent. Civil society must monitor all their important steps.
As for my brother, I would like to add on behalf of all my relatives: we all feel the unbearable pain of loss. But I found myself thinking that for some time now he is not only my brother, but the brother of all Belarusians. Not a son of his mother, but a son of the Motherland, which he did not betray. I hope that one day we will put a monument to him not only in the cemetery, but also in one of the streets in Biarozauka.