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Belarus Weekly: Propaganda bolstering depiction of Ukraine as a vile state, military mining the country’s borders

June 10, 2022 8:52 pmby Maria Yeryoma
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Workers of Minskenergo (Minsk Energy Company) shout during a rally in Minsk, on August 17, 2020, after incumbent Minsk Energy Company workers shout during a rally in Minsk, on Aug. 17, 2020. Belarus’ dictator Alexander Lukashenko used to rely on factory workers before the 2020 presidential elections. However, after Lukashenko’s regime blatantly committed fraud, independent labor unions sided with the opposition. (Getty Images)

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Belarusian propaganda is bolstering its depiction of Ukraine as a vile state. Meanwhile, the military is mining the country’s borders with Ukraine and Poland. 

Crackdowns on professional unions and healthcare workers in Belarus has led to mass detentions and the suicide of one activist. 

At the same time, the Belarusian economy is turning to piracy and contraband to counter the growing number of sanctions imposed by Western countries in response to Belarus’ participation in Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.

Ukraine reports Belarusian army mining border

According to Oleksiy Gromov, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Belarusian military is engineering combat positions, conducting training, and mining its borders with Ukraine and Poland. 

Access to areas around the border in three regions has been restricted since June 1 by the Belarusian Border Committee. There’s no information available on similar restrictions next to the border with Poland. However, access to forests is largely prohibited due to the threat of wildfires. 

As part of ongoing military drills, a reinforced tactical battalion group was deployed on June 3 in Brest, a southwestern city near the border with Poland and Ukraine. On June 22, combat training is set to begin in southern Belarus next to Ukraine.

Ukrainians sign petition to issue citizenship to foreign volunteers within Ukrainian army

On June 1, a petition on issuing citizenship to foreign fighters was published on the official website of the President of Ukraine. Currently, it is the second most voted on petition on the site. Within days, the petition attracted over 11,000 votes out of the 25,000 necessary, demanding to offer foreigners enlisted in the Ukrainian military and their families the same social and legal protection in case of injury, captivity, or death as Ukrainians by assigning citizenship or developing another special status.

Citizenship is crucial for the over 1,500 Belarusians fighting for Ukraine. In Belarus, they face from two to five years in prison for participation in a foreign war or face the death penalty if their actions are qualified as terrorism.

The petition is open until the end of summer, if it receives the required number of votes, the president must address it according to law.

Belarus introduces state-run piracy to circumvent sanctions

The Belarusian government announced on June 4 the development of a bill that would allow importing goods and using software in Belarus without permission from the copyright holders. The measure is said to be a solution against shortages of imported consumer goods on the market. Analytics suggest the bill will cause a rise in prices, a lack of consumer protection, and disruption of supplies for businesses.

Earlier, the same measure was introduced in Russia.

State TV increases attacks on Ukraine after Lukashenko blames Kyiv for ‘atrocities.’

Alexander Lukashenko awarded several KGB officers on May 31 for successfully “liberating Belarusian truck drivers stuck in Ukraine.” He also accused Ukrainians of "blatant killings" of two Belarusian drivers. 

Later that day, a state-affiliated TV channel released a “documentary” that went even further, saying that DNA samples taken from dead Belarussians reveal that they were tortured. No actual medical proof was presented, while the “documentary” is rife with medical mistakes.  

Most likely, the “rescue operation” refers to the April prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia in which stranded long-haul truck drivers, detained after Russia began its war, were released. 

On March 16, the Belarusian Transportation Ministry reported that 116 drivers were stuck in Ukraine, while two of them died after a Russian airstrike hit Korosten, Zhytomyr Oblast. 

On April 7, Lukashenko announced the success of the "operation.” Two days later, Russian Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova reported the prisoner exchange was conducted.

Ukrainian court seizes Russian and Belarusian property worth over $18.5 million. 

A pre-trial investigation found that Russian and Belarusian enterprises imported into Ukraine 420 railway cars together with fertilizers and metal rods in violation of Ukrainian customs legislation, evading large sums of taxes, according to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office and Bureau of Economic Security.

A member of Naftan’s independent professional union committs suicide after interrogation

On May 30, Vladimir Krysenok, a former unit operator at the country’s largest oil refinery plant Naftan and a member of the independent labor union, was found hanged at his house. Three days prior, the KGB detained him for interrogation and released him after forbidding him to leave the country. 

His friends, who declined to speak on record, suggest that Krysenok was pressured to testify and threatened with 12 years in jail. The suicide of the activist follows April’s raids on independent unions across the country that ended with 17 people arrested. The head of the Naftan independent union Olga Bitikova spent 75 days in jail.

Lukashenko and his administration used to rely on plant workers as part of their core electorate. However, after Lukashenko’s regime blatantly committed fraud during the 2020 presidential elections, independent labor unions sided with the opposition. Many union members were interrogated, imprisoned, and tortured in captivity.

Law enforcement continues persecution of medics

On June 1, the Belarusian Department of Financial Investigations arrested four surgeons following mass detentions that began in March. Shortly before, over 30 trauma surgeons and orthopedists were taken into custody, paralyzing the work of trauma departments in public and private hospitals across the country. 

The healthcare workers are charged with offering the patients to buy endoprosthesis on their own ahead of a five-year wait for those purchased at a tender by the health ministry. 

According to Belarusian law, the procedure of offering to buy medicine independently is legal. The regime is now accusing doctors of being corrupt. Some doctors were released after they admitted guilt and agreed to “compensate for the damage” and work in clinics assigned by the health ministry.

Along the lines of trauma surgeons' cases, there are ongoing probes into private medical centers amid a medical staff shortage in the country. On June 3, at the opening of the new clinic building, Lukashenko claimed that he is “fed up with private medicine” and is going “to go above and beyond in building public healthcare.”

Lukashenko calls locally produced vehicles expensive, manufacturer lowers prices at expense of profitability 

At a meeting on May 30, Alexander Lukashenko was indignant about the rise in the price of Geely Atlas cars. According to him, the car used to cost $27,000, but "the prices have doubled.” The BELJI plant and the Ministry of Industry adjusted the cost by 15% by reducing the profitability of both the plant and its dealers.

The BELJI plant was once an ambitious $250 million Belarusian-Chinese venture, launched in 2013. The target has been assembling 60,000 cars per year for the sale on the Russian market. Although stimulated by the state, the plant hasn’t reached its full capacity to date.

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Maria Yeryoma
Author: Maria Yeryoma

Maria Yeryoma is a Belarusian media manager and a contributing author at the Kyiv Independent. She recently led the commercial "special projects" at TUT.BY — the biggest independent online media in the country. In May 2021, TUT.BY was raided by Belarus authorities leaving 15 employees in custody and forcing the team to leave the country to continue their work. Maria moved to Kyiv and helped establishing a new media outlet — Zerkalo.