Kristina has asked me to write this text. It is her testimony, the story of what she was subjected to in a jail in Minsk, Belarus, after she was taken to a cell by three soldiers from the dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s riot police OMON.
She tells me about how she was raped. The details are so severe, so surreal, so twisted, that I have to ask to see her medical records. Can it really be true? She sends them over and I have them translated. There are no embellishments.
It is in fact, all true.
A gynaecologist, specialised in the reconstruction of damaged genitalia, tells me that the kind of injuries Kristina has sustained are normally witnessed in women from conflict areas where sexualised violence is used to terrorise civilians, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Kristina will need advanced surgery, followed by an extensive period of rehabilitation. She cannot control her bowels, everything just runs out of her. She does not know if she will ever be able to have children. She only has five remaining teeth.
That is what Lukashenko’s riot police have done to her.
Kristina wants to tell the world what has happened, she says. She hopes that this is a chance to swing public opinion away from the inaction that has followed the international community’s customary condemnations and sanctions.
She wants to tell her story, even though it means having to relive everything all over again, something she does anyway both when she is awake and struggling to sleep. She sees the worn out table that they put her on. First on her stomach, then on her back. She can also see their vacant eyes through black balaclavas.
”They looked like they were just waiting for a bus,” she says.
Kristina is one of the many people who have raised their voices against Lukashenko’s attempt to steal the country’s recent presidential election. She didn’t think twice about joining the protests, nor did she stop when it became clear that both riot police and soldiers had been ordered to stifle the peaceful uprising by any means possible. She knew it might get her into trouble, but she didn’t hesitate.
”I thought there was a risk I could be assaulted,” says Kristina, who is forced to speak slowly in order to make herself understood.
After all, a person’s voice changes after they’ve had 25 teeth crushed by a truncheon being smashed into their mouth, repeatedly, at full force.
She was arrested, locked up with two female friends in one of OMON’s armoured vehicles. Others were already caged in there. She was slapped, others were kicked. More or less what she’d expected. Kristina was afraid, but she felt safer knowing that she wasn’t alone, that there were other protesters around to see and hear what was happening.
If anything, she says it felt a bit like a ritual. A way to teach them a lesson. A few hours of abuse, then they’d be back on the streets, bandaging each other’s wounds and giving the bruises some time to heal before they went back out the following weekend. But that’s not what happened.
Her friends got off lightly compared to Kristina, in the sense that they were able to walk out of there in one piece. Kristina collapsed outside of the jail, with internal bleeding and pain so severe she says she’s never experienced anything like it.
Why was she singled out?
Kristina doesn’t know. She’s not an organiser, she isn’t active in any political group, she’s just anybody, a nobody. Maybe that’s why, she says. Because if this can happen to just anyone, that means everybody has to take the risk into account.
Kristina is convinced that the soldiers were following a plan.
”They were completely calm when they came to get me in the corridor, they let me speak a few words to my friends. They only lightly held my arm when they brought me to the cell. They were quiet, but not aggressive. I thought they were taking me there to just ask some routine questions.”
She remembers that the cell – or interrogation room – was about five metres by five, there were fluorescent lights in the ceiling. There were no windows.
The moment the door closed they started their methodical rape.
Anus, vagina, mouth. They used their truncheons. At first she thought they were going to beat her over her back, maybe her feet. But instead they pulled down her pants.
She screamed and pleaded. Told them where she was born, what she studied at university, what football team she supports – everything she could think of to find common ground with one of the men.
They continued, saying nothing, not even to each other.
”I thought I was going to die. I felt like the things they were doing to me would kill me, no one can survive something like that. They were like machines, not people.”
She drifted in and out of consciousness, but she was awake when the soldiers finished off by breaking her teeth. She saw them on the floor, flecks of white in a red pool of blood.
Kristina was dragged out of the jail. She tried to walk, but collapsed. Civilians took her to a hospital, where she had emergency surgery and blood transfusions. Eventually her parents picked her up. She is still with them now, mostly bedridden, kept numb by heavy painkillers.
Kristina’s real name is not Kristina.
”They won’t be able to identify me. I’m hardly the only woman to be raped by OMON or even by the regular police. The people who went after me had done the same thing before.”
This appears likely. Human Rights Watch have documented systematic abuse and torture, as well as rape, which both men and women have said that they were threatened with and – in at least one case – subjected to.
“I can declare, with full accountability, that there hasn’t been a single fact established about rapes by police officers,” said the Belarusian Interior Ministry’s First Deputy Minister.
Kristina knows the truth.
The life she had is ruined now.
She says she wants to do everything in her power to contribute to Lukashenko’s demise. She loves her country, she loves Belarus, and she calls herself a patriot. But she wants to get away, as far away as possible. Away from Lukashenko, away from Minsk, away from that cell.
”I have to get out of the country. I cannot get the healthcare I need here and I am afraid that they will come back for me.”
I ask her how she wants to end her message to the world.
”Help us get rid of this psychopath, who rapes his own people.”