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Rev. Uladzimir Drabysheuski. Situation of the Orthodox Church in Belarus in 2020-2023. A story of personal persecution

Православный священник, многодетный отец, политический беженец, член группы "Христианская визия".

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Life and Faith Under Oppression: Voices from Political Prisoners and the Persecuted Belarusian Christian Communities. Brussels, European Parliament, 31.05.2023.

Greetings to all participants!

I am Uladzimir Aliakseiavich Drabysheusky. I was born and lived in Gomel, Belarus. I am married and have six children. I have been an Orthodox priest for 23 years. Now I am a representative of the independent expert community “Christian Vision”.

After the rigged presidential elections in 2020, harsh political repressions, detentions and violence outbroke in Belarus. This turned into a terror that continues up to this day.

In 2020, in Gomel, I took part in both election rallies and spontaneous peaceful protests: until the election day – as an ordinary citizen, and from August 13 – as a priest.

These are the reasons why I decided to speak up against unlawful actions of the Belarusian state:

  • It is my Outrage by the injustice, the blatant lies of the authorities and falsifications, the persecution of independent observers, presidential candidates, and their teams. Simply speaking, I am enraged by the abuse of power from the part of authorities.
  • It is my Admiration, Proudness of and Solidarity with those Belarusians, who did not remain silent and showed true Christian love to their neighbors, their thirst for truth and justice, who did not give up and began to resist, demanding that the authorities comply with their own laws. And this protest was peaceful and never aggressive.
  • It is also Pain and Horror. It is my feeling of pain for Belarusians and Belarus. It is the horror of that Darkness that was going to and is going to devour us all, of the beatings of peaceful protesters on the streets and in paddy wagons, of violence against detainees in prisons and police stations across the country.

After three days of information isolation in the country, the authorities switched on the Internet, and we all saw evidence of tortures, atrocities, and police brutality on the streets and in pre-trial detention centers. Like many of my compatriots, I could not sleep then and stop crying.

In the first days of the nonviolent protest, two protesters were shot dead: Aliaxandar Taraikousky in Minsk and Hienadz Shutau in Brest. On the night of August 12, in my native Gomel, Alexander Vikhor died, due to severe beating by the police and their refusal to provide him medical assistance. Since 2020, we are aware of the deaths of about 22 people in one way or another involved in the non-violent protest.

To my sincere regret, despite these facts the Belarusian Orthodox Church remained faithful to its usual servile position towards the state. Then-Metropolitan of Minsk Pavel (Ponomarev) (as well as Patriarch Kirill [Gundyaev]), hastened to congratulate Lukashenka on his alleged victory in the elections and expressed his readiness to continue the cooperation with him as the head of state. The establishment of the Church, represented by its hierarchs, practically did not care a dime for Christian principles such as Truth, Justice, and Mercy.

As a priest, I could not put up with all this.

On August 13, 2020, I went in front of the building of the Investigative Committee in Gomel in my priestly clothes with a banner that said in Belarusian “Stop the violence.” I expected an immediate arrest and was prepared for it as best as I could. The patrol that arrived soon did not detain me after a short conversation, however they kept track of me until the evening that day.

In the following days, I was again on the streets. It was important for me personally. I wanted to support people and show that the Church of Christ is against violence and lies. A lot of people came up to me with gratitude and asked the most important question: “Where are all the other priests and how could we go to church now?”

The police began to come to our home and ring the doorbell, while we hid behind the closed doors. Obsessive attempts of the security forces to contact me continued, I was constantly being watched, and, judging by extraneous sounds, they have obviously tapped the phone.

My children were under pressure, while policemen in civilian clothes kept coming there. One day they made a failed attempt to take my son with them.

On September 11, some unknown people tried to kidnap me at a bus stop, but there were people around who stood up for me.

A week later, I was summoned to appear at the police station, where I was detained and sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest «for active participation in an unauthorized mass event.»

After serving the term, I was taken to court and again sentenced to additional 15 days. Before being released, they forced me to take off the priestly clothes in which I was detained and drove me around the city in a paddy wagon for a long time, in order to leave me in a sparsely populated area of the city.

It became obvious that there could be many such “trials” and that I could be sentenced again. With a great difficulty and help of friends, my whole family, except for the eldest daughter who studies in Slovakia, travelled to France, where we received the status of political refugees.

Among the highest clergy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, there was only one person who raised his voice in defense of the Gospel of Christ and compassion – the late archbishop of Hrodno Artemy (Kishchenko). His story is most significant for understanding of the state of affairs in the Belarusian Orthodox Church – you can either remain silent and obey, or otherwise face repressions.

Therefore, one can speak neither of dialogue nor of freedom of thought in the Belarusian Church; the control within it and denunciations of those who disagree are increasingly growing being carried out under guidance of KGB. Archbishop Artemy in August 2020 publicly condemned violence and lie, which was interpreted by the leaders of the Belarusian Orthodox Church as “meddling in politics”. For those acts, the archbishop was forced to retire against his will in 2021. He passed away at Easter this year.

For many years, as a priest, I lived in a state of “inner emigration”, trying to remain myself and helping people in any way I could. But the moment has come when silence and inaction are no longer possible.

The entire terrible, inhuman, and repressive machine from the Soviet times was taken over by the Orthodox Church of Belarus and Russia for wide internal use. Any attempts of resistance within such a Church are forced to go underground, where you can trust and be honest with but a few people you personally know. Anyone who speaks out loud in defense of peace and against war is squeezed out of this church and forced to either emigrate or being imprisoned.

I chose the path of resistance to the best of my strengths and abilities.

Thank you for your attention.