Reporting from Belarus: Nick Shchetko
Belarus was always considered a relatively peaceful country. Nothing really bad happens here, we believed. We had no terrorist attacks, no interethnic conflicts, no massive
catastrophes… But suddenly it all changed in a just one day. It is a day that trembles in the hearts of nearly every Belarusian man and woman, and created a massive split in society. It was the day of the blast, one year ago, April 11, 2011.
I remember that day perfectly. Early in the morning, in a hurry, I forgot my camera at home and decided just go without it. “What might happen?” I asked myself. “And if something happens, you still have your mobile phone with you, don`t you?”…
It was chilly, but spring was already in the air. I had finished my work in the studio where we were recording an interview at around 5pm, and I was preparing to enjoy a glass of “something relaxing” with my colleagues, to celebrate the homecoming of our team member Olga Loyko – she had just arrived from London. Glasses were still full when the other colleague, Alexander Chekan, stormed out into the room and shouted: “have you heard it? Check Twitter, they say it`s a blast, a blast in Minsk metro”! Celebration instantly ceased and a rush began.
I recall phoning friends and relatives then, getting to them through the busy mobile networks. They were safe, thank God, they were not in the metro! I recollect driving frantically downtown towards the site of the blast, luckily finding a parking place near the roadblocks.
Then I remember running to the place where it all happened – “Oktyabrskaya”, the central Minsk metro station, always packed with rush hour commuters. The bomb went off at 5.56 PM, when people filled the tube to get home…
I recall the first two guys I met and interviewed with sounds of ambulance sirens in the background. Their eyes were moving rapidly and their hair was strangely “restyled” by the blast wave, not to mention dust on their clothes and bodies. “It was definitely a blast, and a powerful one”, they confirmed. “There were dead bodies, definitely”, they said.
The death toll reached 15, and around 400 officially reported injured. When I reached the station, action nearly stopped. There was no panic, but astonishment. The eyes of the people gathered around the station were telling: “It could not have happened to us, no, it`s untrue!” Dead and injured bodies, crying women and anxious men… I wish I could erase these memories not only from the memory of my Nokia, but from my own. Though it`s incredibly hard…
A lot of people thought that the blast was somehow connected with the authorities, for them to tighten the control and oppress the remnants of opposition forces – but those views calmed down soon. The blast was not politically motivated, at least not that was ever emphasized. As soon as two suspects were found it became clear that they did not have relations to any of the political powers. It was two simple guys from Vitebsk born in 1986 – a metalworker and an electrician. They were accused of arranging a long list of small, more or less “harmless” blasts, and the last one – the terrorist attack which took 15 lives instantly and injured around 400.
They were caught two days after the blast, and tracked down thanks to the video recordings from the metro cameras. The video showed how a guy left a big black bag at the station, and then moved away to a safe distance. However, some important parts of video were missing, and a face was unrecognizable on the public clip.
One of the suspects, Dmitri Konovalov, according to the investigation, was a “chemistry genius”, able to create a highly explosive compound from relatively affordable components. Vladislav Kovalyov, friend of Dmitri Konovalov, according to the investigation, knew everything about what was going to happen, and didn`t break Dmitri`s plan – he even helped to carry heavy bag with explosives.
The trial was open and lasted more than a month, but a number of attendees did not see enough evidence that the two suspects actually committed such a terrible crime. Anyways, the judge decided that the suspects were guilty in arranging the metro blast and participating in other episodes, deciding on a verdict of capital punishment.
They both were shot dead on March, 15, 2012. The verdict was met with widespread public discussion; a lot of people were amazed and overwhelmed by the verdict, along with a swift destruction of all the evidence and a relatively quick execution. Confusion and distrust started to crawl among society – memories were fresh of a Belarusian maniac in the 1980s, who was captured only after another person was sentenced to death and others suffered years in prison. Some experts believe it was again those same ‘maniacs’ (Kovalyov and Konovalov) who organized the blast – and that Dmitri and Vladislav are innocent due to the lack of evidence. But there is one last thing…
What’s done is done. We cannot erase,nor rewind. There is no way to resurrect those who died, no way to give new limbs to those who were crippled. There is no way to correct a judicial error, if there was an error. And there is no way to forget the terror of that chilly day in spring, exactly one year ago.