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‘An innocent victim of a terrible system’ Thousands gather to commemorate opposition protester killed in Minsk

Source: Meduza
EPA / Scanpix / LETA

Thousands of people gathered on “Changes Square” in Minsk on the night of November 12 to commemorate opposition protester Raman Bandarenka. The 31-year-old died in a Minsk hospital earlier that evening from severe head trauma. Witnesses say Bandarenka was involved in an altercation with a masked man who appeared to be a plain-clothed security officer. Police officers carried Bandarenka away from the scene of the incident around 10:00 p.m. and drove off with him in a minibus — he was taken to hospital two hours later.

After midnight on November 12, 31-year-old Raman Bandarenka was brought to an emergency hospital in Minsk. He was suffering from a severe head injury, swelling in the brain, bruises, and abrasions. By morning, the doctors told his parents that their son was in very serious condition and had a one in one thousand chance of surviving. Bandarenka died in the hospital that evening. 

The night before, Bandarenka was reportedly beaten up by a so-called “Tikhar” — a plain-clothed individual working on behalf of the security forces (this is a Belarusian term, often used to refer to masked men in plain clothes involved in arresting protesters).

The incident took place near Raman Bandarenka’s home, located on what locals have dubbed “Changes Square” (“Ploshchad Peremen”); the courtyard of a residential complex located on Chervyakova Street in central Minsk. The square features a mural of the two sound engineers who played the famous protest song “Khochu Peremen!” (“I Want Changes!’) by the Soviet-era rock band Kino at a pro-government concert in Minsk during the leading up to the 2020 presidential elections this summer (the mural has been painted over repeatedly, and redrawn again and again). 

This courtyard (like many other locations in residential areas) has become a popular gathering place for opposition supporters in the neighborhood: it’s decorated with red and white symbols and often hosts concerts. But on the night of November 11, a group of strangers arrived there wanting to remove the red and white ribbons tied to a fence on the square. Local residents knew immediately that these weren’t ordinary civilians — their faces were hidden by masks and they appeared to be acting on behalf of law enforcement officers, who hung back in vehicles (mini-buses) parked nearby. 

After the men arrived, Raman Bandarenka sent the following message to a local chat group for residents of “Changes Square”: “I’m going out.” He went out into the courtyard and encountered another resident arguing with a man in a mask. Bandarenka intervened in the conversation.

“The guy in the mask asked: ‘Why are you such a smart-ass?’. He pushed Roma [Bandarenka] closer to the mural, he tried to get out of the way but the stranger grabbed him and threw him with all his might towards the slide on the playground. He hit his head hard,” a local resident named Yuliya told the news outlet 

Another eyewitness said that the masked man pushed Raman out of nowhere: “Raman took a few steps back by inertia. I literally turned away for a second and when I looked back at my neighbor again he was lying on the ground already.”

“He was standing next to me. At some point, he said: ‘There’s nothing to be done here, it’s time to stop talking and leave.’ And at that very second, pushing me out of the way, this man flew at him and with the phrase ‘Why are you such a smart-ass?’ started to push him. He drove him towards the center of the playground, he hit the ladder,” says another woman who was at “Changes Square” at the time of the incident.

Afterwards, two security forces officers carried Bandarenka to their mini-bus and drove away. All of this happened around 10:00 p.m. — two hours later Raman Bandarenka was brought to the hospital with a head injury.

Raman Bandarenka being taken from “Changes Square” to the mini-bus
Oksana Krasovskaya

Police officials maintain that Bandarenka was injured during a residential dispute. In the words of the Interior Ministry, some residents have been posting opposition symbols, which others want taken down — the conflict allegedly arose over this issue and had “deplorable” consequences, which the police have to deal with.

Thousands of people came to “Changes Square” to commemorate Raman Bandarenka on the night of November 12. They laid flowers there and lit candles. There were so many people that traffic jams formed along adjoining streets. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya) called Bandarenka “an innocent victim of a terrible system.” Opposition Telegram channels began calling for a moment of silence at the national level.

The crowd at “Changes Square” following Raman Bandarenka’s death
The phrase “I am / We are Rmana Bandarenka” projected on the side of an apartment building in Minsk (first photo)

At least four people have been killed during the protests that have followed the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus. On August 10, Alyaksandr Tarayouski was killed in Minsk — the authorities claimed that an improvised explosive device detonated in his hands when he was trying to throw it at riot police, but there is evidence to suggest that he was most likely shot. On August 12, Alyaksandr Vikhar died in police custody in Gomel. On August 19, Henadz Shutau died in Brest after a police officer, who was allegedly aiming for his shoulder, shot him in the head. Mediazona has calculated that 1,373 people have been injured during the protests in Belarus so far — more than 600 of them were beaten while in police custody.

Story by Vladimir Tsybulsky

Translation by Eilish Hart

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