Two Women United In The Fight To Topple The Man Known As ‘Europe’s last dictator’.

February 23, 2021

Nina Baginskaya, Photo by Foreign Correspondent: Ilya Kuzniatsou


By Eric Campbell

Foreign Correspondent, ABC,  Australia’s leading international current affairs program


Nina Baginskaya has barely arrived at her country shack, outside the capital Minsk, for a spot of gardening when the first admirer stops her.

“We’re standing next to a celebrity,” an old man shouts. “Are you going to get rid of that dumbass soon or not?”

The “dumbass” he is referring to is Alexander Lukashenko, self-declared president of Belarus and Europe’s longest-ruling dictator.

Since August, people have braved riot police, bullets and stun grenades to stage near-daily protests against him.

“He’s sacked himself,” Nina assures her admirer. “People aren’t listening to him anymore.”

But the old man starts pouring out his grief to her.

“I can’t stand it when young people are dying,” he says, tears suddenly welling in his eyes.

“They are killing them, stabbing them, raping them, abducting them.”

“That’s why I go to the protests with young people,” Nina tells him.

“I have heart problems, cancer, I would go but I can’t,” the man cries.

“I can still run. I’ll go for you,” Nina promises.

She’s been keeping her promise almost every day, marching at the front of mass protests, pensioner protests, women’s protests and neighbourhood protests, always holding the banned red and white Belarusian flag aloft.

Few have inspired more courage or taken greater risks during the months-long protests in Belarus than Nina.

Her confrontations with police have become some of the most famous images of the uprising.

“I’ve never been afraid,” she told Foreign Correspondent.

She’s been arrested multiple times but refuses to back down even when police take her flag.

As she marches ahead of the protests, people chant: “Nina, Nina, Nina”.

Seeing a little old lady stand up to state brutality has given heart to people a fraction of Nina’s age.

Maria Pugachjova. Photo by Foreign Correspondent: Ilya Kuzniatsou

“She’s a really inspiring person,” says 27-year-old Maria Pugachjova.

“She’s not scared of anything. She doesn’t give a flying f*** about all of the police.”

Before August, Maria spent her spare time partying with friends or travelling abroad, her Instagram feed a collection of glamorous poses at bars, beaches and famous landmarks.

Now she spends every moment she can risking arrest and imprisonment to protest against Lukashenko.

“When people ask me, what did I do before the 9th of August, I don’t remember my life before that.”

What she does remember is the violence she’s witnessed on the streets of Minsk.

“I saw a lot of blood on the streets,” says Maria. “I saw a lot of awful things that are still in front of my eyes, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m still protesting every single moment I have.”

Mostly, she marches in all-women groups, dressed in the red and white colours of the banned national flag.

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