Viktor’s story

After Russia
4 min readMar 29, 2023

Some unknown people tried to take me and the children “to the police, because we’re all terrorists”

This is not a photo of Viktor. For safety reasons we needed to use a photo from a photobank

I am from Brest, Belarus

My entire childhood was spent in a country where people were afraid to discuss politics and speak the truth out loud. Even as a child, I saw how they beat and arrested protesters just for their opinions. I left.

Inside Belarus, Europe’s Last Dictatorship

I am now 31 and I have two children; we live in St. Petersburg. All my life I’ve been trying to show my children that the world is an open and safe place, that there are more kind and honest people than it seems. But they see what is happening around them. My eldest daughter is ten, and she has already seen how they beat protesters while she was trying to wade through the police cordon in the city center on her way to class. Now, she asks me to keep my voice down if the police is round. My younger daughter understands less, but they already force her and all the other children in her kindergarten to mould tanks and planes out of modelling clay as a present for their dads for the “Defender of the Fatherland” holiday [note: state holiday in Russia celebrating veterans of the Armed Forces and men as a whole as a counterpart of International Women’s Day].

Am I afraid to live in Russia?

For quite some time, I am. Though, one gets used to everything, including fear. It’s hard to believe that I am in danger, that we [my family and I] are in danger. I used to teach migrant children and we would constantly hear how people would openly reveal their hatred just because of the childrens’ appearance. Once, some unknown people tried to take me and the children “to the police, because we’re all terrorists” — it was terrifying.

It’s terrifying that Russia has no laws, only force and violence. It’s terrifying that police can simply beat, torture, and rape people and nothing can be changed. It’s terrifying that there are many people around me who support the war and say “they [Ukraine] deserved it”. Terrifying that old folks believe propaganda, even though they’ve been deceived for 22 years already — this is a rift that destroys families. It’s terrifying that half of my friends have left [the country] and the other half just can’t leave. It’s terrifying that from the TV screen Putin promises that Russia will “spit out” all the “traitors”, meaning those who stand for peace, meaning us. [note: reference to Putin’s speech on March 16, 2022 where he said: “Any people, and especially the Russian people, will always be able to distinguish the true patriots from the scum and the traitors, and just to spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths.”]

When you live in this constant fear, you don’t know if being threatened because of a post on social media has made you any scarier. You don’t know whether you should be afraid that somehow maybe the Belarusian army, which is involved in the war on the side of the aggressor, is searching for you even though you haven’t owed that army anything for a long time [note:Belarusian forces have not directly participated in the invasion but are complicit based on violations of the UN Charter]. You don’t understand if it’s gotten more frightening now that people with whom you attended protests after the election in Belarus [note: referencing the mass anti-government protest movement in 2020–21 which ended in violent repressions by the Lukashenko regime] are being deported from the country. They’re being deported to Belarus, where they can expect nothing good, just because they happened to attend the same protest as you, but they were unlucky and you were fortunate.

But the most horrific things are happening far away and you can only imagine how terrifying it is right now in Ukraine. Yes, we are hostages of criminals [the regime], but for the time being these criminals are more obsessed with another victim, who has it much worse than we do.

They left us all for later, we can be sure that our turn will come. After all, who else can be held responsible for this cruel, senseless, and lost war? It must be [us] the domestic enemies.