Thirty-two years ago, on July 27, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic issued a declaration "On State Sovereignty,” approaching the country’s independence from the Soviet Union.
The country’s Independence Day was celebrated on July 27 before strongman Alexander Lukashenko took power and canceled the holiday.
The Kyiv Independent is continuing to provide readers with a weekly roundup to help explain current events in Belarus. To receive the Belarus Weekly newsletter subscribe via this LINK.
As Belarus continues its incessant military drills near its border with Ukraine, the country’s law enforcement detains bystanders that report on troop movement.
Belarus’ police harass the relatives of Belarusians who have joined the Kastus Kalinouski regiment, a regiment fighting alongside the Ukrainian army, in an attempt to prevent more volunteers from joining.
Ukraine’s Armed Forces release an address to their Belarusian counterparts, urging them to stay away from Ukraine.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) concludes its investigation into the forced landing of the 2021 Ryanair Flight FR4978, confirming that Belarusian air traffic control was forced by the state to issue false bomb threats.
A report accuses Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of continuing to marginalize the Belarusian language despite its official status.
Meanwhile, the strongman talks to AFP, saying that Belarus will always support Russia and blaming the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine on the West.
Lukashenko also introduces legal amendments permitting trials in absentia, furthering the persecution of those who have fled Belarus for political reasons.
Belarus persecutes those attempting to join Kalinouski regiment, their relatives
Human rights watchdog Viasna reported the detention of Belarusian citizens allegedly attempting to join the Kastus Kalinouski regiment, which fights alongside Ukraine’s Armed Forces.
Viasna also reported attacks on family members of those who have already joined.
In a video released by Belarusian authorities, three men — Siarhei Grybovich, Siarhei Raptunovich, and Aliaksandr Ainutdzinau — “confessed” to intending to cross the border with Ukraine and join the Kastus Kalinouski regiment.
The men are now charged with attempting to take part in a foreign armed conflict, which may see them behind bars for up to five years.
BYPOL, an association of exiled former Belarusian law enforcement officers, says that Belarusian police are creating fake Telegram channels to fish out personal information from those who want to sign up for military service in Ukraine.
Belarusian law enforcement has also harassed the relatives of fighters currently with the regiment.
In April, a Belarusian state-owned TV channel published a report about the Kastus Kalinouski regiment, revealing the names of 75 soldiers. A few days later, law enforcement released videos in which the mothers of two soldiers were shown condemning their sons' actions. The mother of one soldier, Vasilii Parfiankov, was later arrested.
In July, the mother of captured Belarusian fighter Siarhei Dziohtseu was also shown by state-controlled media outlets condemning her son.
By contrast, Belarusian authorities appear to support Belarusian national Siarhei Lanovenka’s decision to join Russian proxies fighting in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. Lanovenka is quoted saying he had “ joined the militia to save the kids” in a pro-Belarusian government report.
Lukashenko says Belarus supports Russia, blames war on West
Lukashenko’s reiterated his country’s status as a co-belligerent in Russia’s war against Ukraine in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) on July 21, in Minsk.
The Belarusian autocrat confirmed that his country is supporting Russia, providing its territory for missile strikes on Ukraine, and providing medical and intelligence assistance to Russian troops.
“Yes, we are taking part in this operation,” Lukashenko said, once again blaming the West for Russia’s war. He also accused the European Union and the U.S. of controlling Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the country’s opposition leader, from whom Lukashenko stole the 2020 presidential election.
Lukashenko added that Belarus de facto acknowledges Russian-occupied Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts of Ukraine as being part of Russia, but added that there’s no need for an official recognition yet.
The strongman also repeated all the previous claims that his country will fight alongside Russia in case of an all-out war in Europe.
Belarus continues mass detentions in communities bordering Ukraine
Belarusian law enforcement has again conducted raids in the communities of Mazyr, Khoiniki, and Naroulia in the country’s southern Homel region.
Five men were reportedly detained in Khoiniki and Naroulia and four in Mazyr for “subscribing to extremist Telegram channels.” Some of them were also issued administrative sentences for disobeying a police officer.
People walk past the Bolshoi Theatre of Opera and Ballet in central Minsk on July 22, 2022. (Getty Images)
On July 19, a video was published on pro-Belarusian government Telegram channels showing some of the detainees from Mazyr confessing to having subscribed to “extremist” Telegram channels.
Following raids and mass detentions in Ivanava and Drahichyn in Belarus’ southwest Brest region in the week of July 11, human rights watchdog Viasna reported that Belarusian law enforcement officers beat a man and threatened to strangle him with the unofficial white-red-white Belarusian flag, used by the opposition.
Ukraine’s military warns Belarus
The Ukrainian Armed Forces’ communications department released a video addressing Belarusian military officers, urging them to stay home and not join Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine.
The address was later promoted by Belarusian nationals fighting alongside Ukraine.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, the advisor to the head of Ukraine’s Presidential Office, said that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is still considering employing Belarusian troops in his war against Ukraine.
George Varos, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, said that, so far, Belarus is unlikely to join the war.
The expert suggests that, although Belarus’ military might technically be able to form up to 12 tactical battalion groups, this amount of troops will not change the situation in Ukraine and may instead cause domestic unrest.
ICAO investigation finds Belarus guilty of forced Ryanair flight landing
On July 19, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) published the results of its investigation into the forced landing of Ryanair Flight FR4978.
The aircraft was on a regular international passenger flight from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, when Belarusian authorities diverted the aircraft as it was flying through Belarusian airspace on May 23, 2021, citing an alleged bomb threat.
Upon arrival, no bomb was found and two passengers onboard the flight, journalist and political activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, were detained. Sapega was sentenced to six years in a Belarusian prison.
The results of the ICAO’s investigation confirm that claims of a bomb threat aboard the aircraft were “deliberately false and endangered its safety” and were “communicated to the flight crew upon the instructions of senior government officials of Belarus.”
Emails regarding the bomb threat cited by Belarusian authorities were reportedly sent after the plane was diverted. Email provider Proton Technologies AG has not disclosed any information to corroborate Belarus’ claims.
According to the ICAO, forced landing constitutes an offense under the Montreal and Chicago conventions.
Lukashenko signs bill permitting trials in absentia
Lukashenko signed the legislation on July 21 permitting trials in absentia for 47 Belarus Criminal Code articles.
Amendments apply to charges of treason, terrorism, genocide, mercenarism, sabotage, riots, and the creation or participation in “extremist organization.”
Many of those charges are used to justify the persecution of political activists in Belarus.
As per the amendment, trials in absentia can be authorized by Belarus’ Prosecutor General as well as the chairman of Belarus’ Investigative Committee and the head of the KGB.
The amendment will reportedly also allow for trials to be brought against those who participated in protests triggered by the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Report highlights suppression of Belarusian language
The Union of Belarusian Writers published a report on July 20, outlining instances in which linguistic violations have occurred in Belarus from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2022.
During the 2022 Belarusian constitutional referendum, ballots were reportedly not provided in the Belarusian language.
Several Belarusians have also been convicted for having spoken, or promoted speaking Belarusian language. For example, artists Ales Tsyrkunou and Vital Borys were arrested for 15 days in March 2022, for speaking Belarusian at a courthouse in Minsk while attending their friend’s trial.
In March 2022, Siarhei Mouchan, a teacher at the Belarusian State University (BSU) was dismissed from his post for conducting his lessons in Belarusian. In February 2022, political prisoner Valadar Tsurpanav was punished for speaking Belarusian in the penal colony to which he was sentenced.
The report also details the increasing marginalization of the Belarusian language, noting the growing use of Russian by the government, in education and in the cultural sphere. The vast majority of Belarusian media is reportedly delivered in Russian and official statistics from 2019 indicates that Belarusian is spoken by only 28.47% of citizens.
Both Russian and Belarusian are considered to be official state languages in Belarus, according to the constitution.
Kharkiv court seizes over $3 million in property from Belarusian-owned enterprise
Ukraine’s National Police reported on July 25 that a total of Hr 112 million ($3 million) in assets have been seized from a Belarusian-owned navigation equipment manufacturer based in Kharkiv.
According to Ukraine’s National Police, the Belarusian share of the company’s corporate rights and over 20,000 square meters of real estate have been seized.
Criminal investigations are reportedly ongoing.
3D artist recreates cell in infamous Okrestina detention center
A 3D artist operating under the alias “Mayashato” published a 3D model of a cell in Minsk’s Okrestina detention center, infamous for being the location where riot police tortured protestors detained after the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
In November 2021, 10 women detained in a two-bed cell at Okrestina staged a hunger strike, citing the lack of access to basic necessities such as feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, fresh air, showers, and adequate medical care. At one point, the women reported rampant lice and only four toothbrushes, seven sanitary pads, and three water bottles for 10 of them.
Two-bed cells such as the one portrayed in the model have reportedly been used to hold up to 18 people at a time.