On 20 October 2022, the Belarusian KGB (State Security Committee) added Liudmila Chekina and Maryna Zolatava to the list of persons involved in terrorist activities. On 9 January 2023, behind closed doors, the Minsk City Court began considering the «TUT.BY case». On the dock — Chekina and Zolatava.
Liudmila Chekina is being prosecuted based on the following articles of the Belarus Criminal Code: Part 2 Art. 243 (evasion of the payment of taxes, and fees on a particularly large scale); Part 4 Art. 16, Part 3 of Art. 130 (organisation of intentional actions aimed at inciting racial, national, religious, or other social hatred committed by a group of persons or having serious consequences); Part 4 Art. 16, Part 3 of Art. 361 (incitement to action aimed at harming national security through the media or the Internet).
On 17 March 2023, Judge Valiantsina Ziankevich found Liudmila Chekina guilty on all three counts and sentenced the political prisoner to 12 years in a penal colony. In addition, Liudmila was fined 37,000 Belarusian rubles (around 14,600 USD) and deprived of the right to engage in activities related to the performance of organisational, administrative, and management duties for five years.
Liudmila’s story is told by her colleagues, to whom she is Mila [diminutive for Liudmila].
In 2008, Mila was recruited as a legal consultant. She came across as intelligent and confident when interviewed. There was no doubt about her professionalism and her candidature was approved. At the time, we did not even think that she would go on to become the CEO.
Mila has dealt with difficult and controversial situations where there have been arguments from different sides and where it has been necessary to find the best solution that suits everyone. She will always have convincing arguments in a situation where someone disagrees, but will always listen to the other side. She knows how to argue, but she always does so in the most intelligent way possible. Mila is a proponent of negotiation rather than forceful resolution.
Mila’s appointment as CEO came as a surprise to some, as her main role has been in the legal field, rather than directly in strategy and tactics. But over the years, in meetings, on the board, in strategy sessions, it was clear to everyone that she was a smart person. There was respect for her.
Mila is a super-decent and super-law-abiding person. Any accusations that the Belarusian regime makes against Liudmila and TUT.BY are baseless. The company’s operations have been the subject of a number of reviews by external auditors.
TUT.BY employee speaks on condition of anonymity
Mila. I don’t think most staff ever called her anything else. She was not «Liudmila Yuryevna», not even «Liudmila». She was «Mila», but always respectful.
I have been working with Mila Chekina at TUT.BY for more than five years. She had no office of her own. She sat in an open room with a few dozen other people. Amazingly, on her ordinary desk was a rather old computer with a small monitor. You would never guess that this is the place where the CEO of a major corporation works.
Mila is a first-class lawyer with a thorough understanding of the complexities of Belarusian law. Even after becoming CEO, she continued to respond fully and efficiently to editorial queries, only occasionally passing them on to other lawyers.
In the team, it can happen that a person is a professional in his or her field, but it is difficult to communicate with him or her even for work purposes. Or, on the other hand, they may be open-hearted people who are great for a chat over a cup of coffee, but absolutely no good for work issues. For me, Mila was and still is the embodiment of the perfect symbiosis of a super-professional in her field and, at the same time, a top manager without a «crown», ready to help anyone in the company. There were more than 250 people working at the company. You could always stop her in the hall and ask her your question. Mila smiled and talked to you.
I joined the company when TUT.BY entered the Hi-Tech Park Belarus. My task was to write a press release about the event. I was preparing for a hard, long, tedious process and was even a little scared, based on my experience with release reconciliations. For the first time, writing a press release for the country’s main media is a bit unsettling. I was told that I would be co-ordinating this with Liudmila Chekina, the CEO. And for me to get to know her — she sits behind my back. When I wrote the text and sent it to her, she said: «Great!». I turned in my chair in shock and asked her if she was serious. Mila replied: «You’re a PR manager, you understand this better than any of us. I have checked the facts and the wording. Send it.»
I realised that I was responsible, that they trusted me. Mila has made her choice: I take my position and she respects my professional qualities. It seems to me that she approaches everyone from a position of respect. If there is respect, then your opinion will be taken into account.
It was a PR day, not a big holiday, so Mila brought me a bouquet of flowers as a congratulations. It was so sweet! I worked very little, and here the CEO does a nice thing in honour of my professional holiday. She is such a thoughtful person.
As we worked in the same open space and had a lot of conversations about different work issues, we found common themes at the same time. I love to make quiches and Mila has tried them all the time and even picked her favourite – with salmon and spinach.
Mila spoke warmly and often to her father. She went out into the corridor to talk to him, but the conversation always started with: «Hi, Daddy.» A person cannot be distant to you after sentences like that. Soon I started saying the same to my dad.
I can’t remember Mila ever saying «no» to me. If she disagreed, we would «negotiate» — an argument against an argument. When you pitch your story to Mila, she will either support it or help you to refine it further. Mila always considers proposals not only from a financial, corporate and social responsibility perspective, but also from a legal one. So it was easy to start new projects: you already knew the pros and cons, the pitfalls. And that you can be insured and protected.
When we came up with the merch for TUT.BY, I was afraid it would all end badly because the leader’s opinion is usually very different. Mila laughed and said I would have to show her the sketches before the launch, but there would be no yes or no from her. She said we would make a decision together.
When the merch was released, Mila bought it in bulk from the store, gave it to her friends and wore it herself. She performed at the event wearing a branded hoodie. It was great to see her so actively involved and living the life of a regular employee. I have the feeling that she would not have been such a cool professional if she had not been such a sensitive, empathetic and responsible person.
Mila has never been such a «boss». Mila is definitely about soft, silent power. But despite the fact that she is humane and sociable, you understand that she will solve the problem, influence the situation and take responsibility. Her first letter from the SIZO, which I received in response, was imbued with this responsibility. It included the phrase: «Forgive me for what you have had to endure.» This is not an admission of guilt. It is a sign of concern for all of us.
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