Intensive care doctor Yury Sirash describes how ambulances weren’t allowed to enter scenes of explosions; how the AMAP beat volunteers and kept beating even the injured; the condition in which people were brought to the hospital from Akrestsina jail in Minsk, Belarus. And why, in his opinion, the government lost all respect.
Yury Sirash is the director of the intensive care unit at Minsk Emergency Hospital.
Most patients on Aug 9 were taken to the Military Hospital, as injuries that night were what they specialize in – traumas inflicted by flash-bang stun grenades, etc. We were a back-up hospital.
“All the information we received was by word of mouth because the internet was disrupted, and you can’t believe Bel TV. So we were getting most of our info from the emergency medical teams. They would arrive and say, Now they stun grenades are being deployed, tear gas.”
Is it true that medics were allowed access? That they themselves were beaten and detained?
“Yes, alas. On 11 Aug, EMT workers weren’t allowed access. Their teams could only deploy to the resistance venues if summoned by police. They weren’t allowed! That upset us greatly, because these are battle wounds. The sooner you provide medical aid, the greater the chances the victim will survive.”
“But we didn’t despair. Doctor-volunteers packed up their gear and Red Cross badges and go right out “into the front.”
“But then the next stage started, when they began to detain the medics as well, and take them to Akrestsina – doctors, nurses. The result was that the injured were left without medical care.”
“I suspect many of the injured are now staying home, they’re afraid of further persecution by the authorities. And we’re going to have even more repercussions: complications from these injuries..”
Sirash explains that according to international practice, Red Cross workers in war zones are immune from being prevented to do their work from either side of a conflict.
“Volunteers spoke of how they were beaten by AMAP. Volunteers bearing Red Cross badges!”
Sirash says one volunteer told him that when he explained to the AMAP that he was providing medical aid, the AMAP slammed not only the volunteer medic with the truncheon but also the wounded man he was caring for. Sirash says he and most of his colleagues had rarely in their professional careers encountered “war” wounds of the kinds seen in wake of the protests – explosive shard wounds, bullet wounds.
What kind of wounds do former inmates from Akrestsina come to you with?
The inmates they would deliver to us from Akrestisna “were horrifying to behold. You’d lift a t-shirt, and you’d see mottled flesh, all blue.” Victims would howl in pain when moved from the stretcher.
“Furthermore, they branded them with indelible paints of some kind, on the forehead and arm. Why I don’t know. And these were criminals or drug addicts. These were normal young men. There were no drunks, vagabonds, alcoholics, marginals.”
“That’s what forced us to rise up. That was beyond the pale.”
Did you participate in protests in the “hot spots” or in medics’ protests?
“I didn’t go to the barricades, but not because I was afraid. I just realized that I can be of more assistance in the clinic.
But we do take part in protests. On 12 August we had a peaceful protest by the medical university. It was so inspiring. The stroke that broke the camel’s back was the arrest of our colleague Dr. Bahdan Shylnikouski.”
Word got out that Shylnikouski was beaten at Akrestsina and his colleagues got him out. He’s now recuperating, says Sirash.
Sirash says demands should be made to release all prisoners, not just doctors or members of a particular group or profession.
“If we all go out and together say ‘No!’ – then we are a force. Only together can we change the situation,” says Sirash. “The govt has lost all respect. It doesn’t understand that once it has lost respect, the game is over for it.”