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Diary of Dasha Kostenko Pamiętnik Darii Kostenko Дзённікі Дашы Кастэнка. Плошча 2006

Аўтар: Кастэнка Даша,
Дадана: 19.04.2006,

We would like to share with you Dasha Kostenko's diary, a young Belarusian woman, an active participant in Minsk protests who disappeared since last night. Dasha Kostenko was among the first people putting up the tents in the centre of the city in protest to the rigged elections. The final part of her diary, from March 19th to March 22nd, gives a moving first-hand account of what was happening at the central square.

At the moment, Dasha is presumably in custody, her name appears on a list published by an activist group - Spring '96 - a non-governmental human rights organization active in Belarus. She was taken in custody on the night of the 23rd. Her diary, posted on the Internet, has since then been read by many people. We want Dasha's words to be heard around the world, and we want more people to know what is really happening in Belarus.

P.S. This document was translated into English by several volunteers the day after the protesters' arrests. It is not a professional translation, but we believe that it will help us spread Dasha's words to the world.

19th of March. OBSERVATION

I will be very short, as I have no time. I spent the whole day at the polling station, observing. Yesterday the list of eligible voters from my electoral area consisted of 1925 people. Today in the morning it already had 2122. In the evening, before the counting started, 2251. How could it "grow" by 225 people?

I will not lie - the electoral committee has been quite good, they allowed me watch the counting process. I've got good eyesight, so I could see how the ballot papers have been put on the closest end of the table. Twice I caught someone, who put a "Kozulin" ballot into the heap with "Lukashenka" papers.

The results of the early voting and of the voting on the election day are very different. I remember most of the numbers, because I had read the protocol many times (by the way, it was signed by the chairman of the committee - very rare case!).

So that's what we had on the election day:

Milinkevich - 350 votes, Lukashenko - 540 and Kozulin - 73, "against all candidates" - 107, damaged - 22.

Now, compare this with the results of the early voting:

Milinkevich - 25 votes, Lukashenko - 355, Kozulin - 26, "against all candidates" - 3.

I CANNOT BELIEVE that the results may differ so much! Besides, amongst the people who took part in the early voting, there were not only elderly people [it is generally considered that most elderly Belarusians support Lukashenko - translator's comment]. The largest part consisted of people from the student accommodation - guess, why. [otherwise the students could have been expelled from the accommodation and even from the university - translator's comment]

Once the counting process was finished, we went to the demonstration on the Oktyabrskaya Square. By the time we got there, 10.30pm, most of the "show" was over. According to a friend of mine, Asya, "the authorities have deceived us again" - no water jets, no military columns [specnaz], no tear-gas. But none of these had been needed. The best weapon of our authorities is fear. And they make the best use of it. The people had been intimidated long before the election day. They had been intimidated by the stories of discovery of yet another base for training militants, by the idiotic stories about Georgian terrorists, who had allegedly been planning to blow up four schools in Minsk (and also to poison water in the water pipes!) One of my friends couldn't get to the demonstration simply because his mother locked him up in the flat and didn't let him go!

All in all, there were at most ten thousand people on the square. We stood there for a while, then marched to the Victory Square and from there went home. But tomorrow I'll come again.

20th - 21st of March. MAIDAN (The Oktyabrskaya Square)
[Translators note: Maidan is the area in Kiev in which the successful protests of the Ukrainina " Orange revolution " took place.]

I am writing these lines on the 22nd of March at 0.48. During the last twenty-four hours I had only two hours of sleep. 1.5 hours ago I was released from the police station. I still don't know where my brother, who tried to bring food for the people on the Square, is.

Perhaps, they [people] are still there, on the Oktyabrskaya Square, standing in a circle, tightly holding each other's hand, around the small tent camp, guarding it with their own bodies. The temperature in Minsk is dropping to -10°C. There will not be any help; no one will be able to get through the police and KGB special forces, who have blocked all the entrances and exits from the Square. No one will be able to bring them hot tea or sleeping bags. I know that from my own experience now.

Many of them have spent more than fifteen hours on the Square. Some - more than twenty-four. Soon the frost will simply kill them. Yet another "elegant victory" of the regime.

During the last two days I matured by ten years. These days have contained many things and perhaps they have changed my life more than I can imagine now.

During these days I found out what it means to Step Over the Fear, what it means to Love and what it means to Hate. And also, how it feels when all your life is getting into ruins. Some things I saw and felt I will never, NEVER, be able to forget. Some things I will never be able to forgive. These memories will burn me for as long as I live. Probably this was the biggest shock of my life.

The sky was blue, as blue as I have never seen such colour in my life. When I am dying, I will try to remember this marvellous blue sky over the Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk. It was in the evening of the 20th of March, when our Belarusian Maidan has started.

Even now, the participants of the tent camp are covered with monstrous lies. That all this has been planned in advance, that the only people there are the drug addicts, who had smoked and taken drugs to the point where they didn't understand what was happening around them. The authorities even said how much money we had been paid. What is more disappointing, that even many Russian media seem to agree with that. For me personally this is like stab in the back from a friend.

I will write here nothing but the truth. You can regard this as the most exact information. I was one of the first ten people, who, under the TV camera lights and camera flashes, started to put the tents up. It just happened so. I will definitely go to jail now, and probably for more than fifteen days. But whatever happens now, I don't regret anything.

So, the sky above the Oktyabrskaya Square. When, on the 20th of March, ten thousand people assembled there, the sky was clear blue and the first star sparkles started to arise. Alexander Milinkevich stood on the stairs of the Trade Union Palace and shouted in the microphone that the elections were illegitimate, that there was a lot of pressure put on the voters, that numerous falsifications took place. Then someone switched on the music and the sad, strict Oginsky's Polonaise drifted slowly across the tremendous square. All of us sang along - quietly, solemnly, as if it were our national anthem.

That was when I felt that something inside me broke. A lump came to my throat and, looking at the high sky through the shroud of tears, I listened to the words, which seemed to have been written about us:


Our colour will fly

Fire will blaze in the night

And like horn it will call us to courageous fight,

My Motherland,

The Only Land,

To it from exile

Road of return

Road of fighting

It was not just a song - it was calling and demanding. And we did not let it down.

After the song, more was talked about there, on the stairs. But the main events happened not there, but in the middle of the crowd. When people suddenly moved aside, clearing space, and the first tents fell on the asphalt. Mine was among them. 5 people started to set them up. I did not have time to get there - suddenly sturdily-built guys in black hats with fat unexpressive faces jumped out of the crowd. They furiously kicked the tents with their feet, broke arches, grabbed and carried away sleeping bags, tried to hit the people setting them up. They acted in a very coordinated and efficient way.

People [protesters] managed to grab some stuff back from their hands, but they [attackers] carried most of the things away. Fortunately, it was just the first party. Then people simply formed a wall around us, grappled each other's shoulders, linked together and did not let anybody in. Those who tried to force through were shoved back.

And provocateurs [instigators], agents in civilian clothing, were many, scarily many. They stood around in groups. And some of them hitched up our badges, "for freedom", and tried to join the surrounding on the sly.

And then, behind this live wall - the surrounding - we put up our tents. I clearly remember the moment when I was standing in the surrounding, hesitated whether I should go inside, and Svetka, my friend who was working there already, called me.

I did not feel anything special at that moment. I just stepped into the middle and took the arc, helping to put up the tent. The shock came later. First I was hiding my face under the hood, because plenty of video- and photo cameras were aiming at us, right in the eyes. Then I decided that it was a kind of a halved decision: why would I stop now. And I took the hood off.

We put up the tents, put down the [camping] rugs and sat down on them. It was then that I started to tremble. The realization of just WHAT we had done dawned on me. And the realization that all my previous life, very possibly, was now going away, like the sand through my fingers. All my life! Intellectual games [kind of club activity], the children's club which has been my joy for so many years, my relatively well-off exisence, work at a scientific journal, friends, books, parents. My beloved Minsk. And, possibly, Belarus… and, possibly, freedom.

I was trying to hide my tears under the hood, so that the journalists would not see them. It is an unattractive sight when a person is trembling and twisting from sobbing. Then I calmed down: what was done, was done. There was no way back. Indeed, was it worth it to read to read such good books in childhood and listen to such good songs, just to "have nothing to do with it" in real life?

It remained only one thing to do, and I did it. I called a person whom I loved for the past two years, and told him about it. I had wanted to do it for a while, but did not dare. And now there was nothing to fear.


In the beginning, there were a lot of people around us, standing in a tight ring. On the stairs, music was playing; journalists were coming to interview us. I talked to a Euronews correspondent and Georgian TV journalists, to a correspondent from NTV. Frankly speaking, it did not make me glad, but for some reason they came to me quite often.

After 23.00 the music was switched off, because the law prohibits loud music at night. We try to comply with the laws in everything, even in little things. It is because we know that any trifle can be turned against us. And if they did not find a trifle, they would make it up.

After midnight people started leaving because the subway was about to stop running. There were fewer and fewer people left, but the surrounding was standing, unmovable.

At night people started coming, bringing thermos bottles of hot tea. They were usually elderly women and men living in houses nearby. It wasn't easy for them to reach us from the very beginning. To prevent people supporting us, the police stopped anyone who was found to have a thermos, food, or a sleeping bag. But they managed to come somehow. I remember two elderly women who brought three thermoses with hot water. They gave us kisses and said they would pray for us. Towards the morning, a really old man came with a wrinkled plastic bag. In the bag, there was some boiled sausage [like Polony] and some bread. The old man said, "I am sorry there is only a little: this is all I had in the fridge".

If it were not for those people, it would have been tougher for us. Now the police intercept them and subject them to 10 days [in custody] for a thermos or a sleeping bag. According to yesterday's data on the internet, more than 100 people have already been taken in custody.
What were we doing in the center of the circle? Walking, talking to each other. Sitting in circle, singing songs. First of all, we sang "Faraway the Beautiful". It was as if it was about us. Some radio journalists shoved us a microphone and recorded it. My voice broke off at the words:
"I can hear the voice, the voice asks me strictly:
And today, what have I done for tomorrow?"

I will try to remember this song, in the surrounding of people who protected us with their bodies, for all of my life. This evening was probably the best and the most important thing in my life.

My story would be to a great extent a refutation of all the lies which are brought down on us by the Belarusian and some Russian mass media. So, it is a LIE that our protest is anti-Russian and that we hate Russia. There were Russians among us, with a Russian three-colored flag. Our Maidan [the place of the recent protests in Kiev] was starting not just with the Belarusian songs.
Most harmoniously we sang Tsoy's "Changes", "The Group of Blood", "The Star by the Name of Sun" and DDT's "Whistled". We sang Gorodnitsky's "The Atlants", Vysotsky's "The Book Children", Medvedev's "The Idiot March". We sang "Winged Swings".

Our protest is against the lie and the dictatorship, against the falsification of elections and disappearances of people, beating up of journalists. Against the Soviet Union, which is grasping us by the feet from its (one would think) deep grave.

We want to ask the Russians: do you really need an ally like Lukashenka? An ally chosen by the principle: "even though he's a bastard, at least he is our bastard"?

Those people from Russia who were staying nip and tuck with Belorussian people, all surrounded by police, needed no ally of that kind at all.

There were also some people from the Ukraine with us who managed to slip through the cordon with a flag. There was also a flag of Georgia but I think no people from Georgia themselves. A lot of white-red-white flags and several flags of the EU. Two young journalists from Estonia were arranging tents together with us. I want to stress that it's LIES that everything was planned beforehand. I'd like to tell you how the idea to make a tent camp and the first company of six brave people came up to our minds. There is nothing to lose as our faces were shown on all the leading European TV-channels and, probably, all the KGB cameras "remembered" us as well. Later, they can force me to give evidence that everything was otherwise but I hope I'll manage to tell the truth now.

I rent a flat together with Tanya and Sasha. I used to live with Tanya in the dormitory when we were students of the BSU Journalist Dpt. Sveta, a friend of ours from the same dormitory now living in Smorgon comes to visit us from time to time.

Tanya and Sasha met two journalists, K. and S., from Estonia at the concert in support of Milinkevich. They were going around and wondering where they could put up for the night as they didn't want to stay at a hotel. K. told us they were questioned by a person from the KGB for 3 hours while crossing the frontier. They took away the K's notebook computer. That is why they were afraid of officially staying at a hotel. Tanya and Sasha brought them to our place. We were talking till late at night. In the morning I went to observe [the elections] and then to the October Square and didn't return home this day. I put up at Pasha's place for the night. We understood that we were fooled when the Central Voting Committee started to announce the results in the evening. Sveta came to us on the 19th in the evening. She campaigned for Milinkevich in Smorgon and the results announced at the voting districts at her city didn't satisfy her at all as well. Tanya told me they were sitting and discussing the way we could express our discontent. The idea to make a makeshift tent camp came up in their minds almost immediately. The funniest thing that this was not only their idea! We were discussing the same with Pasha that night but we only discussed it and nothing more. But Sveta and Tanya made more. They phoned their friends and guys from "Malady Front". It turned out that a lot of people were thinking this idea over. The only thing to be done was to discuss the time to come to the square and how to manage to carry the equipment there.

K. and S. were surprised at first but told then: "Think yourself, this is your country. We'll help you to make tents but for us it's not that dangerous. The worst thing which may happen is that we may be deported-and that's all. And you may have big problems." Sveta and Tanya agreed that they were ready to face problems. They phoned me and Pasha on the 20th in the morning and asked for a permission to take my tent, sleeping-bag and rucksack and I, of course, allowed this. Pasha and I decided to take part in all this somehow but it didn't seem to be so serious then.

So, we were six. Excluding some unknown to me boys. The average age of people in Oktyabrskaya is about mine - 24 years. There are also very young, and there are students, but not all. There are some older people, strong-built men forming the cordon. There are more boys than girls.

So, I keep on telling my story. We were photographed all the time, so I closed my eyes not to let flashes prevent me from singing. In the middle of the camp we put down some camping rugs. First we put food and warm clothes together on rugs, but when there were too many things, we singled out 2 tents to make a 'dump'. When I was taking out hot tea, someone presented me two bunches of flowers - irises and some other. We put them in a jar. Someone brought and put down an icon nearby. We lit two thick candles in front of it. We tried to keep this "center" in good order, to clean it. It was the icon nevertheless. We put near only thermoses with hot tea, but they were emptied very fast. We were hardly ever in the center - as soon as someone brought hot tea or coffee we poured it out in cups and gave them to the people in the cordon.

One of the most disgusting fictions of the Belarusian mass media was that we were all drunk and that there was beer in our thermoses. But this fabrication is clumsy: What stupid guy would drink beer instead of hot water at three o'clock in the morning at a time of hard frost???

However we anticipated in advance such fictions. That's why it was hard prohibition in the camp and around it. Everyone realized: if we only touch a drop of alcohol they will film it right now and "glorify" us as alcoholics. Periodically people started announcing: "I'm sober! I'm sober!" At 4 a.m. one stranger brought 2 bottles of vodka. We wanted to send him back with these bottles, but then we thought what if he wasn't an instigator and would fall into militia hands? We didn't open these unfortunate bottles. We wrapped them up in a bag, and hid them in the tent.

The whole night Aleksandr Milinkevich and his wife had been with us. They used to come down the steps, to visit our camp. One time they managed to bring a thermos with hot tea. Two of Milinkevich's sons where arrested those nights when they were trying to bring us warm clothes.

It was very cold at night, especially for people in the cordon, who defend us against wind as well. These people… I'm ready to kneel to them. They where staying in a solid ring during the whole frosty night, some of them even longer - to 14 hours and more, and didn't move an inch! They brought to us a very young guy, he was dressed in light clothes. He hardly could talk. We gave hot tea to him to drink, rubbed his hands without gloves.

How did we warm ourselves? We sang songs, chanted slogans, danced to the rhythm created by mugs beat against the ground . In different parts of the surrounding, from time to time, people also danced something like middle age circle dances.

Some people did various physical exercises; others arranged a run around the ring, trying to be closer to the standing people. They were running with flags: first - a guy with a Russian flag, then - somebody with 2 flags (Belorussian and Ukrainian), then - Georgian. From time to time they cried happily: 'Young people are for a healthy life!' I also ran with them. It warms you up.

A little bit later we had to solve one more problem. The toilet. Of course, many people from the nearest houses would let us in, but the problem was that we couldn't pass through the military men and other guards in civilian clothes who were standing around us. All ways in and out of the square were blocked. I saw with my own eyes buses and vans destined for prisoners. The risk was that if one of us moved away - he wouldn't come back.

We thought about what to do for quite a long time, until someone opened a sewer hatch [man hole cover] close to the road. We put a tent over it and cut a hole in the bottom of the tent. At first the smell was awful there. I cried out, encouraging 'did you think that revolution smells like roses?' and dove into the tent.

Belorussian TV said that the disgusting opposition had arranged their WC - purposely! - near the Great Patriotic War Museum. It's ridiculous! The Museum is so far from the surrounding ring and the journalists' cameras that if somebody decided to go there he wouldn't come back.
There is one more lie I've got to mention. It's so ridiculous and clumsy, but still some people believe it: they say that we are standing there simply for money. First they said we received 20 thousand Belarusian rubles [about $10], but then they realized that it looked ridiculous, so the authorities increased our 'wages' to $50 (almost 5 times more!).

Oh my God! Let those who believe it come there and try to stand under the looks and cameras of the people in civilian clothes. 14 hours standing there, growing numb, waiting for the dawn like a rescue. And see in the morning that there is so little 'reinforcement', as people simply cannot push through. And with every minute feel how the ring becomes rarer, because people do not bear it and have to leave to sleep, and there is no change. And every minute wait for a storm, beating, provocation. And know that probably tomorrow you will be excluded from the university, or fired, or taken to jail.

Yes, in the morning there were very few of us. At 6 a.m. when the first bus №100 was moving along the avenue, those who were standing facing the avenue kneeled so that our tents could be seen, and we shouted: 'JOIN US! JOIN US!' They did it while they physically could.

We were waiting for help, but there was not much of it!!! But at 9 a.m. we understood that the ring would stand. The crowd of people had changed. When we brought them hot tea and food they were saying: "No, thanks, we have just been home".

At 9 a.m. I began to feel very bad. I wanted to sleep desperately and I was shaking because of the cold. So Pasha and I snatched a moment, ran past the military men and the people in civilian clothes and got onto the bus №100. And Sveta and Tanya stayed there, the third day with no sleep.


We slept for a couple of hours in Pasha's place and then we each went to our offices. Strange feeling: you are already different and your life is quickly changing. But everything around you is still flowing slowly, in peace and quiet. In our editorial office no one knew anything about me. One more day you can keep this strange illusion of calm and cozy life going on. Strange and sweet illusion, as you've returned from a half a day from the war or prison back to normal life.

I was even able not to fall asleep at the office; I finished editing an awfully difficult article and arranged everything else.

Afterwards I headed home - to change clothes and shoes for something warmer (can't understand how I managed to leave home in light spring shoes). Failed to eat properly, but decided to move to Oktyabrskaya square. I was in doubt for a little while - it looked like I caught a serious cold and also was dreaming to sleep myself out and to write this diary. There might be a "to be continued" if they arrest me tomorrow.

Nevertheless I decided to go. I wrapped a sleeping bag around my body under the sheepskin coat, sewed it to a pullover and stuck it on with sticky tape.

They caught me in the underground on the Oktyabrskaya square. I guess it was very easy - the sleeping bag was visible under the coat. A policeman blocked my way, asked for my documents and ordered me follow him to the police office in the underground.

There I was to make a "striptease", to take out everything from my handbag. I was trying to be as calm and friendly as possible. I attempted to start a normal conversation with people in uniform, and felt like I could succeed at it. The officer was quite a normal guy and I was talking especially to him. This blacked-eyed, nice-looking man was seriously asking me how much we were paid. The second was completely opposite. He was shaking up my handbag. He found diskettes and darkly asked what I have there. In a calm voice I suggested to take it and to check, but at the same time I broke into a cold sweat. There was news from svaboda.org site (radio liberty site) and "March diaries". The second cop was thinking to break these diskettes (it would be the best way for me at that moment), but finally just gave it back. Also, they gave back K's Estonian business card. Probably they haven't noticed "correspondent" written on it.

We were talking with police, I was trying to explain them our position, to give to understand that we are not drunk drag addicts. They told me that this night "Hapun" [mass arresting] will be, they will beat us unmercifully and arrest. Generally speaking, were trying to intimidate us in every possible way.

There was the only time I almost lost my temper - when men in civilian came, KGB officers.

If I can understand policeman & justify in something, but those ones - I ha-te! They all somehow look like: same plumpish inexpressive faces, same complacency & assurance in self-impunity. Dressed in somewhat dark & inexpressive, that's how we recognize them.

THOSE were with badges, with OUR badges "for freedom"! They behaved themselves in the department as masters. One of them, who was taller & tighter, looked at my sleaping bag & said contentedly: "Oh! Sleaping bag! I'll take it to Nikolaich to car to warm himself - he's frozen while 4 hours sitting."

And then I understood that I must keep myself in hand strongly not to loose my temper. They got into my things, looked at my passport too long. One of them took a book by Strugatskie bros. [famous soviet fantasts], which was in the bag, twisted it perplexedly in hands (I was longing to say: that's a book, we read books) & asked: "What's this? Detective? Mystics?"

At first they wanted to write a protocol & take me to imprisonment before trial. But now the tall one said: "Ah, enough for her. Let's go to those dumbs or they'll eat all tasty food while we would be driving her."

And he fastened on red-and-white badge in plain view.

I have never felt such a hatred and pain. I wanted to seize a throat of this satisfied, obese and cynical boar, who arrests us and devours our food with clear conscience. The food, which bring us people even running risks of being arrested for 10 days. The food, which hand out with frozen hands girls who stay for second day without a sleep.

THIS can't be forgotten or forgiven. God, if you exist! Send me to hell if you want. But do one. Make a wonder - let next slice will stick in HIS throat.

It can't be forgiven and forgotten. The most disgusting thing about current power - it has divided its nation to "honest" and "dishonest". It has washed out brains of the majority of people. Meanly has slandered in front of the nation the purest, the most honest and brave people, those who can't stand injustice, who are unable to bear with evil. And the smallest "dissident" part has made to see in every comer a potential provocateur or special services officer. And has forced the entire nation to silence and to fear. To be afraid of arrest, dismissal from the work or just of being beated on a doorway. To fear for themselves, friends and relatives. These days my friends and acquaintances call me hourly and ask if I am free and how do I feel.

They check if I am ok.

Even if ok, not for a long. I don't entertain illusions. If today they have been keeping me for two hours and then let me go, it doesn't mean that the democracy has come to the country.

It's just at a loss to make a fuss now, when in Minsk so many foreign journalists. These guys from Reuters, Polish television and other mass media - only their presence protects us now. We are free until there, on the square, stays a ring. I think, as soon as it finishes KGB will "recall our names". Moreover, we didn't hide our faces.

22nd of March. J_O_I_N!!!

Had a short nap at home

In a hurry, I finish the diary and go to Oktyabrskaya sqare. My phone is hot from multiple calls of relatives and friends who saw me on Euronews and NTV (Russian TV channel). Yet there is something weird with the phone: unusual noise and sizzle seem to prove I am being bugged.
Yesterday at night I got a call from K. and C., Estonians. Estonian council had urged them to leave Belarus promptly. He had said they attracted attention of officials when being with us; and that "campers" would be in a big trouble. K. and C. were so sorry to have to go and leave us without support. I hope I will be able to make it to Internet-cafe; and send this diary where I can. I don't know what tomorrow will be like. I would like to ask everybody reading this blog,

People! If you are in Belarus, come to Oktyabrskaya sqare. If you can, stay with us. JOIN! If you are abroad or just very far, spread this blog among maximum number of people.

This is a way to help, and such help will be greatly appreciated. If you cannot join us on the square, just REMEMBER and tell others what it was.

Just in case, farewell!

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