Meet Sergei, Torture Survivor from Belarus
Sergei’s mother received a phone call after her son visited the prosecutor’s office in Minsk to file a complaint outlining his detention and torture by the Belarus secret police. The anonymous caller told her that her son would die unless he withdrew his complaint.
You see, just a month earlier, Sergei, a bright 22 year-old engineering student was abducted by the Belarus secret police at a peaceful rally to protest tyranny and corruption in his country. He helped organize a social media campaign that gathered more than 2000 people in the city’s central square. “We did not hold signs or chant. Instead, we clapped our hands in unison to show our solidarity”, he told us. Sergei wanted to bring attention to the corrupt elections, censored press, widespread police brutality, and the abductions and incarcerations of those who spoke out against the Belarus government.
But this was the third time he was brought in. The secret police knew he had helped plan the protest. His phone was checked for messages and contacts. He was repeatedly beaten and urinated on. An interrogator shoved a towel in his mouth to muffle the screams while they repeatedly punctured his skin with an industrial stapler. The only water available to drink was from his own toilet. He was held for a week, and after being released, Sergei discovered that he had been expelled from the state-controlled university.
Sergei knew that he needed to withdraw his complaint and leave the country or be interrogated and tortured again. Even worse, he feared for his mother’s safety. “I was so worried for my mother – the Belarus secret police were watching us closely. The last six months in Minsk, I could not do anything with my life… I wanted it to end…I just felt helpless.”
Like many survivors we help, Sergei said good-bye to everyone he knew. His long journey to safety started in Minsk and ended in Los Angeles. Southern California is the country’s number one destination for refugees from torture, persecution or other forms of government-sponsored violence. These courageous individuals arrive alone, scared, hungry and homeless. Many are still in pain.
Like many torture survivors, Sergei suffers from PTSD that keeps him from sleeping more than a few hours at a time. He has painful flashbacks, memory lapses, and he can’t concentrate. He is afraid of uniformed men and tight spaces like elevators. New refugees like Sergei also need a place to live. They need help with a new language. They need food.
What is Sergei life like now? With help, he is healthier and happier every day. Through medical and mental health care, he started to sleep better and just started a new part-time job. We are happy to report he is now applying to local colleges so that he can finish his engineering degree. What an amazing and courageous young man!