Alyaksandr Shchasny, husband of political prisoner Irina Shchasnaia: “My wife dreams of living only in Belarus”

Irina Schastnaya is an activist, editor of popular telegram channels, including Maya Kraina Belarus. On November 18, 2020, she was detained and sentenced to four years in prison for "participating in riots." Her husband and son soon left Belarus and settled in Kyiv, where they lived for a year. Shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Alexander Shchasny and his son German moved from Kyiv to Bialystok. Read about adaptation in a new place, mutual understanding between Belarusians and Ukrainians, punishments for judges and security officials in our article.

- How did you end up in Poland?

- I spent almost a year in Ukraine. Then my visa was almost over - there was a month left, and I decided to go to Poland. But, of course, there were thoughts of staying in Ukraine at that time. But now I don't regret that we moved.

In Poland, on the one hand, I was lucky in Bialystok with housing. After all, if a simple fugitive comes from here, it will be tough for him now because of war. On the other hand, I live in Bialystok with my son German. He is 11 years old. He studies online at a school in Kyiv. Classes in them were stopped, and now they have started again remotely.

- Where was it more comfortable for you to live?

- In Kyiv, of course. My son loved it, and so did I. He often remembers Kyiv, how we played there.  

- How does your son perceive the situation with the fighting?

 - As is, and perceives, seriously, without illusions. He and his friends recently had a Ukrainian lesson that ended in an air raid.

- None of his classmates were hurt - are they all alive and well?

- Yep, and this is good. Most of them left. Some of them stayed in Ukraine. Even one of the Belarusian children remained.

- How did you adapt to life in a new place?

-  I was lucky. I had acquaintances. Irena Bernatskaya. She had to spend more than a month in the same pretrial detention center with my wife. Irena contacted me. She suggested that, if necessary, we could come to Bialystok and stay with her until we settle down. Other acquaintances invited me, but I decided to settle here for now. There are a lot of Belarusians here, and Belarus is closer.


- What are you doing now?

- There is such a thing that a refugee cannot work for more than three months with this temporary book. Therefore, there are only such temporary salaries while the case is considered. I also have financial assistance. But there are already exciting job offers for the future. Thanks to Irena, we managed to negotiate with the owner and extend the lease at a small price. And now, through this, there is an opportunity to help other refugees with temporary housing.

My son studies remotely at a Belarusian school in Kyiv. My wife likes it too because she wants him to study in his native language. Moreover, it turned out that there are no Belarusian lyceums in Poland. More precisely, they are, but only for Polish citizens of Belarusian origin. Therefore, a foreigner cannot practice there.

- How did the attitude towards Belarusians change during the war?

- It became more complicated than it was when I first arrived. I don't know how we will deal with this situation in the future. In general, a bad attitude. It is challenging to drive a car with Belarusian numbers. You will either be turned back towards Bialystok or wait for a little while police are looking at the vehicle's documents.

Police stopped me several times. It seemed that this situation was not much different from the Belarusian one. And this is probably only in Bialystok because I have not heard of such problems in other places. I have already been searched 3-4 times. But this is understandable, given what is happening on the border.

- Do they somehow explain this attitude?

- No. Nobody even introduced themselves last time. None of the officers even gave their numbers.

- Have you encountered a negative attitude from Ukrainians?

- There's no such thing. I have many Ukrainian acquaintances - those who have lived in Kyiv, in other cities, even one from the LDNR. But he is an ordinary person; he is hiding from mobilization because it is now impossible to leave from there.

- But these people are your friends. However, the Ukrainians now seem to be divided into two groups - some blame the Belarusians, others are more friendly, they have little understanding of our situation. Will there be a need to build relationships in the future?

- It seems that it will be even easier to resolve this issue with the Ukrainians than with other Europeans.
Well, right before we were talking, a friend called me. Before the war, he also left Ukraine and lived in Kyiv, where he met a woman who gave birth to a girl. So I talked to her myself, she said that all Ukrainians understand the situation in Belarus, and the Belarusians themselves are not deciding anything now.

- When did you leave Belarus?

- Immediately after the arrest of my wife, about a week later. They started calling me - I felt threatened. I had to act.

- What did you think - that you were going for a long time?

- I did not think about that. I do it for Irina. There were no thoughts about myself.  At this pace, I lived for about six months. Then I got used to this situation.

- How do you communicate with your wife?

- Listybel arrived earlier. Now the situation is complicated. Now letters are coming from relatives, but somehow for a long time. Jailers give my wife a few letters per month.

- Can you call Irina?

- I can`t. I have tried. But it will be difficult for my wife to talk to German; she cannot speak with him without crying. In addition, it is legally impossible to do this from Poland. You need to be in Belarus; apply. It's hard.

- Four years of imprisonment - such a sentence was announced to your wife. How did you take it?

- As a personal challenge. Now, like from day one, I continue to struggle with it. I try my best. I am sure that she will not be there in four years.

- Is there any information about the conditions of detention?

- She is being transferred to another unit for the third time. Accordingly, conditions are constantly changing. One unit was cold. She had coronavirus because of that. There are alcoholics and different contingents. It seems that it is chosen so that the political does not sit with the political. They can't just speak in the meeting there. It is forbidden.

- How can we help political prisoners today?

- It seems that it is necessary to continue economic pressure to complicate the maintenance of political prisoners.

- Today, there are more than a thousand political prisoners; some people have been killed, tens of thousands passed through jail. Should there be compensation for those affected by government action?

- The best compensation is to live in a free Belarus. That is why political prisoners endure all this.

- Do you have anger or hatred towards judges and jailers?

- And what to do with them? If we want to make European Belarus, we must behave like Europeans. Otherwise, one dictator will replace the other.

My wife dreams of living only in Belarus. She says the last thing she wants to do is leave.

- How do you see the ideal development in Belarus?

- There should not be vertical power, then we will raise our flag and install the system that the Belarusians themselves need. Then the attitude towards Belarusians will change. Many will return home and to everyday life if this, of course, is possible.
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