Viktoria, Anastassiya and Aliaksandra Mirontseva are the youngest of six sisters. They studied in the same art school: painting, the first two, classical piano the third.
In August of last year, Anastassiya was among the top students in the art class. Viktoria worked in a restaurant. Aliaksandra was a kindergarten music teacher.
A year later, Viktoria, 27, and Anastassiya, 24, are stranded in Belarus; in Brazil, Aliaksandra, 21, is trying to rebuild her life and could become the country’s first Belarusian refugee.
The fate of the three sisters began to change on the night of August 9 last year, when the Belarusian electoral commission announced that dictator Alexander Lukashenko had been re-elected president.
In power since 1994, when he won the first post-USSR elections (the only ones considered free and fair since then), Lukashenko concentrated power in the country, eventually dominating the legislature, the armed forces, the judiciary. and the electoral commission.
There were elections in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2015, but little chance of ousting the former Soviet agricultural administrator dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” from power.
But in recent years, discontent has grown, especially in cities and among the younger population, which includes Viktoria, Anastassiya and Aliaksandra.
This group attempted to react in 2015 and in 2019 worked to register independent candidates, such as those from executive Viktor Babariko and blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, both detained during the campaign.
When Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, then a mother of a family, took over the candidacy of her imprisoned husband, these Belarusians rallied and registered as independent observers of the vote – surveillance blocked by the dictatorship.
Scalded, they were prepared for defeat. But the result – 80% for the dictator – seemed so outrageous that thousands of people took to the streets to protest. That same night, the world watched shock troops on television brutally beating protesters and journalists.
“We did not go on August 9 because we knew that the elections were rigged. But after this horror, many more people went to demonstrate on the 10th, against the violence,” Aliaksandra said by videoconference, from Minas Gerais, where he lives. today.
The three sisters were among them when, around 6 p.m., the police started grabbing random people and pushing them into the vans.
“There were old people, very young teenagers, a very thin girl who was covered in bruises,” says the pianist.
She says they were not beaten “by chance”: “We have seen a lot of brutality, especially against men. Two boys were passed out from being beaten. We asked, we cried, begged, but the officers kept beating. I don’t look human. “
Like thousands of other Belarusians, they were detained for three days in the worst conditions. On the 12th, released in Zhodzina — 50 km from Minsk — needed help from volunteers to return home.
Despite her release, Aliaksandra remained uncomfortable. “Once arrested, no one is free. There is always a ‘visit’, a trial, a fine afterwards.”
The three soon fell under the regime’s crosshairs because an internet video showed the moment they tried to stop the beatings of protesters.
“In the weeks that followed, Viktoria got a call from the police station to testify. They said they wanted to ‘talk about their sisters’. There I realized it would be nice to get out of the country for a while.” , says Aliaksandra. .
She responded to a request from her Brazilian boyfriend, Leonardo, 26, who insisted she leave Belarus, and left for Brazil on October 14.
Two days later, the police went to look for Anastassiya and Viktoria. Convicted of violence against the police and anti-riot organization, they were sentenced to two years in prison. Viktoria took another six months as he was filmed at a rally during the campaign.
It is only when she talks about her life in Brazil that Aliaksandra smiles and ventures into Portuguese phrases – which she learns on a daily basis and, above all, in films with subtitles (for the most part of the interview, Folha had the translation of Volha Franco, representative of the Embassy of the People of Belarus – which is opposed to Lukashenko).
The asylum application was lodged in November, but there is still no decision from the Conare (National Committee for Refugees), the Ministry of Justice. Agency staff cannot comment on the procedure, which is confidential, but say that until last Friday (6) there was no denial or approval of the four Belarusian processes being analyzed.
With a temporary stay of one year, Aliaksandra began studying information technology and is considering a new career in web design. On the list of people wanted by the dictatorship, she saw her bank account blocked in Belarus.
“Missing home is inevitable, and the start was the most difficult, when I realized I couldn’t be home so early. But now I’m in Brazil, and what I’m thinking about is making a living here, ”he says.
Although the vast majority of Belarusian refugees are now concentrated throughout the country, in Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, Aliaksandra sees Minas Gerais as her best option.
“This is Leonardo, his family received me very well,” he says of the Brazilian he met more than three years ago – the two had previously visited in their respective home countries in 2018 and 2020. “In Ukraine or Poland, even closer to home, I would be totally alone,” she says.
Aliaksandra also identifies more with Brazilians than with neighboring peoples, such as Russians. “Like in Belarus, if you smile at someone, the person already wants to talk to you. Even though I don’t understand Portuguese well, they find a way to communicate. Many didn’t even know me, but quickly wanted to help me. . “
She follows Belarusian news on the Internet and often talks to her mother. “It’s heavy for her, a horrible tragedy, but my mom has had a hard time in her life and she knows pessimism doesn’t help. She’s trying to hold on so as not to discourage my sisters.”
The girl, too, tries to see, “in such a difficult and cruel situation, good prospects”. She says that a friend of Anastassiya created an account to publish the drawings that the illustrator continues to do in prison.
“My sister doesn’t even know it, but her friend submitted works for a European art competition. Of the 90 entries, 6 went to the next step, and Stasya [apelido de Anastassiya] is among them, ”says the Belarusian, rooted for a better future.
Follow the crisis in Belarus
6.May.2020 Belarusian dictatorship arrests blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who intended to run for president. Tikhanovskaya registers as independent candidate in place of her husband Jul 30, 2020 Tikhanovskaya rally gathers around 70,000 supporters in Minsk Aug 9, 2020 – Presidential election – Dictatorship announces that Lukashenko has won 80% of the vote and Tikhanovskaya won about 10%. Demonstrators protest in streets and are suppressed 10.Aug.2020 A new demonstration, this time against police brutality, brings more people to the streets of Minsk and several cities; a protester is killed. Tikhanovskaya is threatened and goes into exile in Lithuania 12.Aug.2020 After three consecutive nights of protests, beatings, arrests and torture, Belarusian women are making “chains of solidarity” in the streets to end violence.16.Aug.2020 Repression brings a truce and more than 200,000 demonstrators march in Minsk and in dozens of other cities, calling for free elections. .2020 European Union applies sanctions against Belarusian dictatorship, but spares Lukashenko 12.Oct.2020 Lukashenko steps up repression and threatens to use lethal ammunition against protesters 26.Oct.2020 General strike called as ultimatum by Tikhanovskaia fails in Belarus Nov 6, 2020 EU includes Lukashenko and his family in sanctions February 16, 2021 Dictatorship steps up crackdown on newspapers and NGOs Journalists sentenced to two years in prison for covering protest May 23, 2021 Lukashenko orders interception of commercial flight to arrest blogger Roman Protassevich Lukashenko threatens to retaliate by allowing immigrants to enter EU Jul 6, 2021 Babariko, Lukashenko’s main rival in elections, is sentenced to 14 years in prison 1st August 2021. Almost 300 immigrants enter Lithuanian border, daily record, raising around 4,000 foreigners from Belarus; EU countries see Lukashenko’s deliberate aggression