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‘It’s what society wants’ Belarusian bodybuilding champion divorces husband identified as riot policeman in infamous protest snapshot

Source: Meduza
Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Belarusian Internal Troops Officer Timur Grishko was captured in one of the most well-known photographs from the first night of post-election opposition protests in Belarus. Ever since his identity leaked online, his wife, fitness trainer and Belarusian bodybuilding champion Liliya Salimgareeva, has faced constant harassment. Now, she has confirmed to the Belarusian news outlet Nasha Niva that the public pressure pushed her to divorce her husband. 

Timur Grishko was photographed by Vasily Fedosenko for Reuters in Minsk on the night of August 9–10. In the snapshot, Grishko, whose face is covered with a black balaclava, is gesturing towards a shirtless detainee who is lying on the ground. This scene was also caught on video. In the recording, Grishko and another officer can be seen carrying the detainee out of a police van as bystanders demand his release. Grishko yells a reply: “Yes, I let him go! Call an ambulance!”

The detainee captured in the photo and the video is a man named Yauhen Zaichkin (he was initially reported dead, but this later proved false). Grishko told the Russian state-controlled television channel RT that Zaichkin was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of his arrest. “If we did beat him, then it was [during] a situation where he jumped at the [riot police officers’] shields,” he added. Zaichkin, on the other hand, told the Belarusian news outlet that the riot police officers beat him during his arrest; he lost consciousness and was hospitalized. He also shared his discharge papers, which didn’t mention alcohol or drugs. It later turned out that according to another medical report, Zaichkin was in fact drunk.

When the photo and video first came out, as well as at the time of the RT interview, which aired two weeks later, Grishko’s identity wasn’t disclosed (the interview was anonymous). Later, his full name, place of service, and presumed place of residence leaked on social media. According to this information, in 2016, Grishko was the commander of a specialized police unit in charge of countering armed gangs, tracking down escaped prisoners, and suppressing riots; his current position wasn’t reported online.

In September 2020, the Ukrainian outlet Obozrevatel reported that Grishko and his wife Liliya Salimgareeva were getting divorced. Obozrevatel published photos of the divorce papers taken from Salimgareeva’s Instagram story (her account has since been set to private). The photo included the following caption:“It happens. [Our] opinions and views simply diverged.”

The divorce hearing took place on October 20. Afterwards, Salimgareeva, who Nasha Niva called the initiator behind the divorce, explained her motivations as follows:

“Because this is what society wants, it will be best for me and for him. This kind of harassment is very difficult to bear, they wished me death, a thousand messages a day, they wrote ‘I hope you die.’ This will be both better and safer for me. […] At first I was sobbing and hiding, but then I started to reply: ‘Same to you.’ It’s not normal to talk like that! I already wrote that you’re doing the same thing as the red-and-greens, only you’re pushing morally and they’re [pushing] physically. I’m tired. They’re still writing to me up until now, it’s very difficult to endure and to grasp,” she said. 

Asked if her marriage could have survived without the “August situation,” Salimgareeva told Nasha Niva that “there probably wouldn’t have been a divorce.”

In 2017, Liliya Salimgareeva became Belarus’s top bodybuilding champion in the fitness bikini category. After she won, the Belarusian sports news site published an interview with her, in which she was referred to as the “leading lady of Belarusian fitness.” Salimgareeva told about her training, competitions, and personal life. Asked where she sees herself in 10 years, she replied: “I think I’ll have a husband by then. It makes no difference to me what his job will be. The main thing is that I love him.”

In the early days of the August 2020 protests in Belarus, riot police officers carried out a particularly harsh crackdown. They fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at opposition protesters, and arrested thousands of people. Many of the detainees were beaten, humiliated, and tortured while in custody: they were forced to stand in the same position for hours on end, deprived of food, and denied medical care. At least one detainee reported that a senior riot police officer raped him with a truncheon on the third day of protests (according to Mediazona, at least three detainees with injuries indicative of sexual violence have been identified since the start of the protests). During the first week of demonstrations, two people were fatally wounded at protest rallies, while another died after being arrested. Meanwhile, Alexander Lukashenko said that there were many “drunk and stoned” protesters, and also reported threats against law enforcement officers and their family members.

Story by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart

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