When Andriy and Christina Vitushka went to pick up their son from police custody last Monday, instead of taking 16-year-old Miron home the couple were thrown in jail themselves.
The mother, father and son were kept in separate cells and forbidden contact with each other.
Stories abound of police brutality following the post-election protests that have rocked Belarus since last Sunday, after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have received 80 percent of the vote. The result has only been recognized by a handful of countries.
One day after the election, Miron was picked up while he was walking with friends and his parents.
After he was taken away, his parents searched for him.
“We stood there peacefully asking ‘where is our son?’ And we were just standing there, waiting, and about 11 PM, two police trucks appeared and we were detained by people in black,” said Andriy.
‘It was like human Tetris’
Christina told Euronews: “The cell was 10 square meters and we were 53-55 women in this little room made for only four. We tried to sleep under the beds, on the table, under the table.”
“It was like human Tetris,” she said.
Miron, Christina and Andriy were all beaten and exposed to psychological torture in custody, they say but the worst thing was not knowing what had happened to each other.
“I was terrified for them, because I didn’t know what had happened,” Miron said, “and they didn’t know as well.”
While Miron was kept in a gym at a police station, his parents were sent to two different cells.
“We were kept together at the police station, and then we were separated, and I had no information about where Christina or Miron was, but one time I saw her through a small window in the cell door because women were taken out of the cells for questioning,” said Andriy.
But seeing his wife walk the corridors was a bittersweet moment for him.
“I was quite surprised because she is diabetic and I was convinced that they would release her immediately because it’s very dangerous for such people to be [without] food,” he said.
“It was a quite harsh place and we hoped that we will never see these things in Belarus again. It’s like the gulag in the times of Stalin.”
While in detention, Cristina was stripped to her underwear and filmed while kneeling with her head to the ground. As the small cell was getting too hot, the female detainees had to remove clothes even as two cameras in the ceiling kept a watchful eye.
The light in the cell was never turned off, making it hard to sleep, and guards would often stop to warn the detainees that they were being watched. Christina said she could hear the men crying in the yard, calling out for their mothers while being beaten.
‘A terrible amount of time’
But although the constant lighting in the cells made it impossible to tell time, protesters standing on the other side of the prison walls shouted encouragement words and once every hour, like church bells, they would join together and yell what time of day it was.
“It was really helpful,” she said, “because when you are detained you can’t really tell the time or distinguish where the day starts and where it ends. It just turns into one terrible amount of time.”
But despite their ordeal, the Vitushkas were now smiling – as at least they now been released. They are also buoyed by the fact that while they were locked up, the protests on the streets continued to rage. The family still believe in a democratic future for Belarus.
“I think even we went through a lot of police violence and torture, it is still worth it because people got to know what is happening – now everyone is striking or protesting in Belarus. People of every age, profession, religion,” said Miron.
“I think now people know what democracy is, and what dictatorship is, and what they need to live in a democratic country,” Christina added.