"A Country to Live in" foundation team. Vyacheslav Zhukov: "Don't wait when they do something for you, do it yourself!"

"A Country to Live in" foundation aims to support and develop civil society, strict observance of law and legality, and, ultimately, building a real country for life instead of the terrible imitation in Belarus.

We continue to present to you the team of our Foundation - people who give all their strength to the struggle for the freedom of Belarusians. Today we will tell you about Vyacheslav Zhukov, the Chief Operating Officer of the Fund.​

- Tell about yourself.

- Born in Minsk, lived in Minsk. Graduated from BSEU in 2014. My specialty is "manager-economist." After university, I started my own business with my brother in the event field. We were contractors at events.

- What kind of events?

- Weddings, corporate events. We supplied photo booths for events - it's called a happy box.

- What is it?

- Happy box is a photo booth that is installed at an event. You take a picture and, after 10 seconds, pick up your printed photo with the logo of the event. It is not necessary to go into it like behind a curtain. No need to hide. And there you can take this photo for a large number of people. Filmed different funny videos, for example, as in the matrix.

- Was it popular?

- Yes. We have become the best photo booth in the CIS. Our franchises have appeared in 14 countries of the world and the near abroad and Europe. Quite a profitable business.

- Before the start of the election campaign, did you continue to do this?

- Not. I was engaged in other projects. I tried myself as a business analyst in an IT company. I tried myself as a product analyst. By the time the coronavirus started (February 2020), I had decided to return to the event industry with a new business.

We have prepared a project to launch from March. And at that moment, all events stopped, and I went into quarantine for self-isolation. And until the start of the election campaign, I did not work. There was such a period of stagnation. Event-sphere has suspended its activities.

- What were you doing at that time?

- I sat at home, thought over projects, formed myself. It so happened that at the first stage, I came to participate in the election campaign rather out of boredom. Because the third month I was sitting at home and wanted to work. I called my partner, with whom I was starting a new business that stopped due to quarantine.

Said: "Listen, can we do something interesting right now?" He replied: "Yes, there is an interesting idea." I came to this meeting. He was 15 minutes late.

I was sitting in the "Ulei" on Oktyabrskaya and did not understand what was happening. Many people were running around. Everyone was bustling about. Such a working environment. I saw Viktor Dmitrievich {Babariko}. I was curious what he was doing here.

- Did you know him?

- Yes. I knew. When he was the chairman of "Belgazprombank," I organized some events for him. At the jubilee of his bank, we met. Then I found out in more detail what kind of person he was and what he was doing.

And when I was sitting and waiting for my friend, I began to google what Babariko can do here. And in Google on the word "Babariko," the very first article was that he was running for president.

It was May 20th. I immediately realized that my friend decided to propose the same project. And when he arrived, the first thing he asked was: "Did you understand what I wanted to offer you?"

I said that I understood and that I agree. Come on, tell me what is required of me.

My wife (at that time, still a bride) was unhappy with this decision. Because I was out of work - I had to get ready for the wedding, earn money, I was looking for a job. I went to a meeting to get a new offer and came home because I will work in politics and a volunteer, that is, for free.

I came and said, I am now at risk, albeit minimal, as I thought.

- What was your attitude to the political system towards Lukashenko?

- I was apolitical until the pandemic that swept the world. People started to get sick. And our state did not take any measures. On the contrary, it only ignored this situation.

Many people deliberately went into self-isolation, including me. I didn’t even go out for three months except for the store, didn’t use transport, didn’t see my friends so as not to get sick. And don't spread the infection if I get sick. I went to the store in a mask and gloves. I carried an antiseptic with me. And the state ignored this situation, and it started to make me very angry.

To be honest, I didn't even know that the presidential elections would be so soon. I knew that in 2020 they would pass but did not know exactly when. I didn’t even understand their importance, and I didn’t know who to vote for.

In 2010, I voted for the first time, probably at random. Because I was absolutely not versed in politics. I didn’t understand who these candidates were and what they were doing. I chose according to the principle - about whom I have heard more from my friends, acquaintances.

- But it was not Lukashenko?

- Nyaklyaeu, Sannikov, Statkevich. I don’t remember who was the most talked about.

- What did you know about Babariko except that he is the head of the bank. He also had a definite position.

- I knew little about him - only that he helps develop a culture in Belarus. It appealed to me.

- What exactly did you do in Babariko's team?

- I was invited to manage the process of collecting signatures. It was planned that I would do this until June 19 - the last day of the collection. I had to set up processes, control.

I was collecting signatures all over the country, except for Minsk. The task was quite difficult. About 4,000 members of the initiative groups were in all the small and large cities of Belarus outside Minsk. It was necessary to contact everyone, find everyone, communicate, keep it under control.

Control the logistics of bringing signatures to Minsk because we had a control system - and we had to bring everything to our office for verification. And then, the signatures were sent to the cities where they had to be submitted.

A lot of volunteers traveled around the country, collecting signatures and then bringing them to Minsk. Then they took it back. I think we had a very well-established system that worked very well. We have lost less than five percent for the entire stage of collecting signatures - they either could not be brought to Minsk on time or did not have time to hand them over.

- When Viktor Babariko and his son Eduard were detained, did you or the team have a shock?

- In this situation, I really liked the professionalism and dedication of all participants in the process. When the detention happened, we were at the office at that moment. We worked at the headquarters.

A message came that Viktor Dmitrievich was detained. I called Edik {Babariko's son} - he doesn't answer. The driver doesn't answer either. We started calling everyone. Then we found witnesses that they had detained everyone. Edik and the driver were driving from the headquarters and Viktor Dmitrievich from his country house.

They had to go around the Grodno region and part of the Vitebsk region to take the signatures.

- Did they do it themselves?

- There weren't enough coordinators. Signatures can be submitted by the coordinator, the candidate himself, or his chief of staff. That is why Edik went to pick up the signatures. Out of 146 sites in our country, only 75 are closed by the coordinators. The rest of them, Edik, drove and drove.

I gave him all these signatures, loaded them into the car, wished them a good road, and literally, in an hour, I learned that they had been detained.

In general, there was no shock {from the detention}. Although it was very expected, this was not the case either. Viktor Dmitrievich was not detained a week earlier when his former colleagues at "Belgazprombank" were seized.

We had many plans in case of detention. There were different scenarios ready. The video was recorded. In fact, we all gathered who were at the headquarters. We had a system that if someone from the leadership is detained, then the next layer takes over. I was at one of those levels.

- Then Viktor Babariko was not registered, and most of his headquarters went to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya?

- Not certainly in that way. I was very pleased then that everyone stayed. When Viktor Dmitrievich was detained, we said that whoever wants to leave (because the risks were increasing).

- And the "widely known" now Voskresensky remained?

- He was not at the headquarters. He was an ordinary signature collector who coordinated his area. I saw him three times, only when he brought signatures.

Everyone stayed. Nobody left. We have teamed up with the headquarters of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya based on our headquarters. After all, we had about 200 people working permanently, I don't know how many were in Tsepkalo's headquarters, but Tikhanovskaya had about 10 people.

Accordingly, our structure seriously strengthened them, plus we had all the necessary competencies for further work, including for the organization of campaign events. We have assembled the necessary team for this - professionals in their fields, established contacts with those who represent equipment and technology.

- Did you organize the very first rally in Bangalore, where there were about 70 thousand people?

- Yes. I just became one of the heads of the department for organizing campaign events.

- So you were doing the same thing that you would have been doing if you had stayed in the Babariko case?

- Yes. And we used exactly the plan that we had. A plan for both cities and how everything is organized and carried out. Everything was painted down to the smallest detail.

- What were your plans after the end of the elections. And did it come as a surprise to you how things turned out?

- All night during the elections, I was at the headquarters. I went and voted with my wife and her parents (by this time, I got married). At first, the wedding was planned for August 10, but we rescheduled it because it was not clear what would happen after the elections.

I arrived at the headquarters and waited for the results. We talked a lot. There was a lot of information from the observers. There was positive information that a lot of people with white bracelets, that a good turnout.

There was a feeling that we could win. However, mobile communications began to be jammed. The internet worked poorly. But from the results that we were able to get, it was clear that Svetlana was winning.

At 11 p.m., we knew about 80 sites, and in 60 of them, we won. However, it was understood that there are 5 thousand more {sites}. Then they began to receive data on falsifications that the results were not posted.

For the whole day, we waved our hands to the people from the KGB car, who had been sitting near our office all day. Four people in Geely. At 11 pm, they got out of the car. They waved to us, showed us the Victory sign, got in the car, and drove away. We had a little joy that maybe we will win after all.

But then the nerves began. Everyone was tired - some laid out the folding beds because they understood that we would not go anywhere. Plus, we were on duty at the entrance because we understood that they could break into the building. Well, the reporters, who, in the amount of 50-60 people, were on duty at the entrance, were ready to cover it online.

People were passing by the office, telling what was happening on the Stele. From our office on Vera Horuzhei, it's less than half an hour on foot. The roads near us have already been blocked. If a police van drove and stopped, we immediately closed the doors and ran into the building. There was a fear that something might happen.

- When exactly was the office destroyed?

- In a few days. Already when Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left for Lithuania. But in general, I hardly remember the chronology of events after August 10.

Early in the morning after the elections, I woke up in the office. It was 7 am - the streets were quiet, no one was there, and I realized that now was the time to go home. I went, tried to follow what was happening around so that there was no surveillance. I traveled across the city. Partially drove even on a hitchhiking to protect me.

Then I sat down at home, talked to my wife. I already had little idea of ​​what to do next. Because at that moment, there were no thoughts about the Coordination Council or anything like that. I understood that my work was probably finished.

And a little later, the first arrests of the guys from my team began - Levon Khalatryan, Anton Belensky. And I realized that the same was waiting for me because we worked together as a team.

- But you weren't arrested?

- Not. I immediately got rid of the phone, turned off the Internet, did not leave the apartment, did not lean out the windows. On August 29, my friend was detained, who invited me to the headquarters. And I was the last from our team who is in Belarus and at large.

Friends who worked from abroad contacted me and said that it was time for me to leave, they would help me. I got ready in a couple of days. And already, on September 2, my friends, business partners, and parents began to call me. Everyone warned me that police were looking for me.

Apparently, I was lucky that I went offline on August 10th. I did not communicate with anyone. I got rid of the phone.

- They didn't track you through your wife, it turns out.

- I wonder, by the way, why this did not happen. Maybe because we just got married. Some data have not been loaded into the databases yet. Plus, we lived in an apartment where neither I nor she is registered.

- You left the country legally?

- I got to Russia not quite legally (the border was closed for Belarusians due to the coronavirus). I was helped by people who had access to the people's database restricted to travel abroad, and I was not in this database. But the danger was on the alarming lists. In Moscow, I made a Lithuanian visa. And then I officially crossed the border with Lithuania.

- What exactly do you do in “A Country to Live in” foundation?

- In the Fund, I act as the chief operating officer. My task is to set up all the processes so that everything runs like clockwork. Team management, project management. Each project has its own manager. I help if you need help, I set everything up in terms of information security.

- How did your relatives react to your departure in general? Maybe one of them was for Lukashenko?

- Parents reacted adequately. They have always tried to relate to their children's decisions. This is my decision, and they respect it. There was no controversy.

- And what are their views on the situation in the country?

- We didn't talk about it much. I believe that everyone in such a situation should make their own choice. No need to try to convince someone. You have to show a person the facts, and a person should decide for himself which side he is on.

- I know that your grandfather was in the Minsk ghetto and survived - he managed to escape. Is he alive now?

- Grandpa left us. He is a war veteran. He was in the ghetto, lost his whole family there, fled from there, right before the pogrom of the house in which he was. There remained his parents and a younger sister who was two years old. The only one who could escape was him.

Then he joined the partisans. He was 16-17 years old at the time. He deliberately got rid of the documents to say that he was an adult so that the army would take him. The partisans, by the way, threw him normally. He fled the ghetto with a comrade, and they brought with them a decent arsenal of weapons. But the partisans took all their weapons and left my grandfather and his friend in the forest. They then survived there in the swamps.

- Is it possible to draw an analogy between life under occupation in Minsk during the war and life in Minsk under the Lukashenko regime now?

- What then, what now, we fought with the dictator. But then the number of occupiers was completely different - much more. I do not know how many there were, but definitely not 10 thousand people.

In addition, the situation with informatization was different. Now you can write a message and the whole country will see it. In addition, there is global pressure, including economic pressure.

So it seems to me that the situation is different. In addition, if people were forced into occupation during the war, now people seem to have no strength to fight. Now the occupation is not forced but deliberate. It is in people's heads.

- That is, people are not fighting now, or are they doing something wrong?

- Not enough people are fighting. If then the whole country rebelled, now only a small mass of people. At the same time, many activists are either in prison or have left the country.

The occupation of people takes place in their heads. The most important thing to do now is to overpower yourself and just do something.

Some of my comrades who know that I abroad know that I continue to fight, ask when we will win, and the plans ...

- This is about the learned helplessness that Viktor Babariko spoke to.

- I would call it just laziness when you expect someone else to decide everything for you. The man asks when we will win. And I want to answer: what did you do to win?

I've helped to collect a large number of signatures, carried out actions, organized. We continue to fight now - we help political prisoners, educate people.

But you continue to go to work, do nothing and sometimes repost on social networks some news that the whole world is talking about, about the detention of Protasevich, for example. Well, I do not know.

- What do people inside the country need to do?

- The strike is needed first of all. This is what is in their power. Yes, it must be prepared and planned and nationwide. But start doing something, not just talking.

Or a friend from the IT-sphere asks me: "Do you think I need to leave?"

Leave, of course. Because you are not asking how to help, you are asking if you need to leave.

It seems that everyone wants to arrange their life. Everyone wants to adopt cockroaches that also get used to anything. If you want to do something, then do it, do not pass it on to others.

If you do not like it, ask yourself: What can I do if you want to change something? It could be something small. Teach an adult to use a telegram, tell about alternative ways of obtaining information, just a sticker of a sticker.

Make people have access to independent media. There is no need to donate thousands of money to support workers or political prisoners, no need to go with demonstrations to the Palace of Independence immediately. Start small. Find out how you can help people, become a volunteer. Do not wait for something to be done for you, do it yourself!

- When will you return to Belarus, and do you plan to return at all?

- It is tough for me to predict. If we follow the path of peaceful protest, then victory will occur when we achieve results in local or parliamentary elections. The second option is a critical mistake on the part of Lukashenko.

If Belarusians decide to radicalize themselves on their own, the situation will become absolutely unpredictable. It can be either a victory on the same day or a long process that will drag on for years.

Will I come back? This is the question I ask myself every day. It is a little offensive that I am trying to do a lot for Belarus, like other activists and volunteers. But there are people inside the country who sit and do nothing - but at the same time demand something.

I don’t want to go back for them. I do not want to work for those who are unhappy in any situation, regardless of whether they are helping. All the same, such a person will be dissatisfied. Because of this, I don't always want to come back. But I am ready to return when the country becomes democratic.

- But after Lukashenko’s resignation, Belarus will not automatically become democratic.

- Right. And I am just now working to prepare people for this, raise their level of education, and tell what democracy is and what it is for. What can people get in a democratic society? How should they communicate with officials, deputies, with the state. My task is to increase the general political literacy of the population so that people understand what can be done to improve their lives.

- When will Lukashenko leave? What are your feelings?

- I think not this year.


- Uruchye or New Borovaya?

- Uruchye. This is my home area. I grew up in it. By the way, Novaya Borovaya is visible from the windows of my house on Gintovta. It's good there, of course, but it's still better at home.

- Dmitry Kokhno or Denis Dudinsky?

{Sighs}. It's not an easy question for me. Dudinsky. I support his principled position, and Kohno is just my sibling. I can't vote for him {laughs}.

- Igor Tur or Grigory Azarenok?

- Igor Tur, of course. Because Grigory Azarenok - I don't know what's wrong with him, some kind of clouding of mind, or what. But so insult people. I have never heard such insults before. They are very cruel, somewhat sadistic. This person needs to be treated. Tur is more professional in this regard.

- "Hands Up" or "Ivanushki International"?

“Hands Up,” I guess. Because of the name of Sergey Zhukov {smiles}. Although I think they were about the same level of popularity. Now, if you recall the most popular songs of that time - "Poplar fluff" from "Ivanushki" only, and at the "Hands of the Top" - "I'm 18 already" and something else. Although no, I don't remember anything else either. It turns out to be a draw. But "Hands Up" then plus for the surname.

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