A Ukrainian woman who dared to hold a topless protest outside the headquarters
of Belarus's feared KGB has told how she and her colleagues were abducted by
security agents and subjected to a terrifying ordeal that included beatings,
mock executions and having a corrosive substance thrown in their hair.
Inna Shevchenko, an activist with the controversial Ukrainian feminist group
Femen, described how masked men told her she would "breathe her final
breath" as they cut up her hair with a knife and beat her for daring to
protest inside the quasi-Stalinist state.
The 21-year-old had travelled to Belarus on 19 December with two friends to
demonstrate against the ongoing crackdown by the regime of Alexander
Lukashenko. In a country where insulting the dignity of the president is a
criminal offence, the trio stripped to their waists and put on fake
moustaches to lampoon Mr Lukashenko, who is often described as Europe's last
Femen's modus operandi involves going topless to highlight feminist and human
rights causes. The group had never travelled to Belarus, a country that
languishes close to the bottom in international rankings for free speech.
Femen's demonstration in Minsk was one of a handful inside the country to mark
the first anniversary of a mass protest that was brutally crushed by
The three women were briefly arrested after the 11am protest but were then
released and expected to return home without incident. They travelled to a
friend's flat before heading to the bus station but never made it back to
Ukrainian media outlets soon began reporting their disappearance, prompting a
diplomatic crisis between Kyiv and Minsk. The women were eventually found in
Yelsk, a wooded region close to the Ukrainian border.
Miss Shevchenko said she and her colleagues, Aleksandra Nemchinova and Oksana
Shachko, were bundled into a silver mini-bus with blacked-out windows and
driven for hours while being interrogated.
"They kept wanting to know who had invited us to Belarus and whether we
received any money from Europe to pay for the protest," she said. "If we
moved they would beat us."
The atmosphere became more menacing at sunrise when they were taken out of the
bus and discovered that they had been driven far from Minsk.
"When we got out I saw a group of six or seven masked men," she recalled.
"They blindfolded us and tied our hands. They said if we tried to look at
them they would kill us. At one point one of the men asked if I liked
breathing. I said 'yes' and he replied: 'Good, enjoy it while you can
because you are about to breathe your final breath'."
The blindfolds were removed and the women were ordered to strip. One man
repeatedly held a knife up to Miss Shevchenko's throat and cut bits of her
hair off. "Then they threw a substance all over my head," she said. "It has
dyed my hair green."
Miss Shevchenko said the entire ordeal was filmed by two men. At one point
they were ordered to hold Nazi flags bearing a swastika and made to state
that they would never return Belarus. The group was eventually released and
told to walk back to Ukraine. They were found by villagers and local police
who alerted the Ukrainian embassy.
Miss Shevchenko said the group had been prepared to be arrested for protesting
in Minsk but did not anticipate such repressive measures. "I never thought
the security forces would do something like that," she said. "I have never
been so scared before in my life."
The Belarusian authorities have yet to make any public statement on the