Andrei was detained on 8 July 2021 together with Yahor Martsinovich, editor-in-chief of Nasha Niva. At first, Andrei was a suspect in the case of group actions in gross violation of public order but soon, another accusation was added: property damage without evidence of stealing committed by a group of people by prior agreement or on a large scale (part 2 of Article 216 of the Criminal Code).
In other words, Nasha Niva people are being judged for utilities payments made by tariffs for individuals, not for legal entities. Andrei and Yahor are looking at up to five years in prison.
The court hearings of the case against the Nasha Niva people started on 28 February 2022. Minenergo [the Ministry of Energy of Belarus] withdrew its claim with no further action. Martsinovich and Skurko repaid the alleged damages to the utilities services in full.
On March 15, 2022 Andrei Skurko and Yahor Martsinovich were sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
Andrei Skurko has type I diabetes and needs an insulin injection four times a day.
Andrei’s story is told by his family and colleagues.
Andrei is modest and funny, handsome and smart. As to his professionalism, the most striking thing would be that Nasha Niva had become the most-read edition in Belarusian language with his direct contribution. I think it’s an objective indicator.
Journalism is a huge part of Andrei’s life. It’s his only job. He started working at Nasha Niva while he was still a university student and he never left. His whole work life has passed at Nasha Niva as a journalist, an editor.
He gives a lot of time to it. If he needs to finish some work, he always puts it first. We have dinner and then he goes back to finishing his work or he gets up early and does it while we’re still sleeping. It was like that on the day he was detained: Andrei got up early and managed to finish a big travel story on Kosava. Then he took a nap and everybody knows what happened after: masked men were running across our lawn.
Andrei is currently interested in untangling historic texts and writing biographies. Both for Nasha Historyja and Nasha Niva. He is good at it. He usually spends several days in a library, he speaks to the people who can tell something about his hero and then synthesizes the things he read and heard. It produces an original point of view.
I knew Andrei is reliable and calm in any way but prison showed he is also reliable and calm in living through hard times. It is obvious in his letters. We’ve been exchanging letters for seven months. Those are very calm letters. It was surprising at first but then we got used to it. We now pass this calm setting to each other.
Andrei wrote to me, ‘All these things can pile up or can resolve momentarily. There is no sense in living through something which is not your fault or oversight. The most important thing is that you are fine. Stay calm and take care to keep the most of yourself for the future. It is essential to maintain a moderate pace of life rather than struggle to live day by day. All things will pass and we will remain.’
Another passage from Andrei’s letters. ‘Viktor Frankl [Austrian psychiatrist, psychologist who survived in the Holocaust and a concentration camp] was unexpectedly good. We reached some of his conclusions intuitively. But he is good at wording everything. I like one thought of his, «The question about what you expect from life is incorrect. The correct one is what life expects from you». That is, don’t focus on pitying yourself, but realise the unique demands of your own life—to love, to work, to strengthen your body and soul. Another one from Frankl, «The one who has a ‘why’ will survive any ‘how'».’
‘We will overcome hardships one after another. No panic, step by step. We are together at all times. Don’t worry about me. Everything will be fine: suddenly or gradually, very soon or in a while.’
Andrei and I discussed Franzen’s novel Freedom. I liked it a lot and asked Andrei to read it, too, and finally, after six months of requests to Valadarka [pre-trial detention facility in Valadarskaha Street in Minsk—Ed.] he finally got it. He writes, ‘It shows very well the unexpected depths a person can present and what the spirit of competition can make people do. I absolutely can’t relate to it, I don’t know why. Once any competition starts in any sphere, it’s easier for me not to take part in it. Because it is a sort of restriction of freedom. We are all different and we need different things. What is the point of being considered better than someone else? What’s most interesting is who is to determine that and whether their opinion is actually important.’
‘I recalled something. I was about twelve and my mother and I took bicycles and went to the field near the railways to cut some branches to feed our goat. And while cutting I suddenly thought about the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and what was all that for—intrigues, conquering, sacrifice—when the end was inevitably death. And death makes all the earthly things unimportant. I remember this thought struck me and brought some peace, as if I was relieved from the responsibility for the fate of the world. The second half of this thought came to me much later. Any star career is less than being with your nearest and giving them all the warmth you have. That’s how it is for me.’
‘Don’t worry about me, please. I’m in a calm and practical mood. I’m waiting for some certainty about our situation. Then there will be a new stage and we will get over it, calmly, in a country style. What’s most important is that we, our baby and our parents are in good health. All other things will pass. Everything will be fine.’
I don’t want to think about the court.
I met Andrei Skurko when I came to work at Nasha Niva in summer 2016. The printed version of the newspaper was still issued at the time. Andrei was the director and editor-in-chief.
Andrei is an exemplary super-professional. He is very intelligent, educated, he is a philosopher. It has always been interesting to discuss literally anything with him. I can say Andrei has been my intellectual school. What happens in Belarus, in the neighbouring countries—I’ve enjoyed listening to Andrei a lot. Those have been fascinating, non-typical and clear thoughts which educated me in many ways.
Honesty, clarity, calmness, confidence, balance—it’s all about Andrei. He’s like a rock. He always has everything under control.
Another distinctive feature which we all have always admired about Andrei is his knowledge of the Belarusian history. He is probably the most successful and outstanding historian in our country for he can present his knowledge in such an amusing and fascinating way. I think it’s a rare combination.
Any of Andrei’s tales about Belarusian history can become a TV show. The texts he wrote have been so deep and special. When we founded the Nasha Historyja magazine, Andrei became its most prominent author and editor. The best texts were often his because history is a great part of Andrei’s life.
This experience Andrei is having now forged the best in him, however strange this may sound. It is incredible how Andrei remains absolutely calm and focused in those terrible conditions. The thoughts he writes in his letters are very deep. Andrei has a philosophical view of the things happening to him, to and in Belarus and in global history. We admire the dignity he shows in all the hardships which befell him.
Andrei has been with Nasha Niva for many years. He is a part of the editorial office, of anything that happens to us. We have always loved how brave he is because our edition has been under pressure many times before. And Andrei has always been in defense. We proudly watched him dealing with challenges.
Andrei reads an enormous number of books, intellectual, complex and sometimes incomprehensible for us. He finds something new and interesting, collects sparkling pieces for the future materials for Hasha Historyja, for letters to friends and family.
His poems for children have been a lovely surprise for us all. We had no idea Andrei could write such talented poetry. It was hidden from us until he found himself in such a daring situation. This endless love to his son, his wife manifested in harsh conditions of isolation from his family, friends, colleagues. This might have become a breath of freedom for Andrei while he is in prison. It is obvious he feels free and lives through this hardship with great dignity.
While in prison, he continued to write articles for Nasha Historyja by heart. He passed and sent letters with what he knew. I’ve always admired this quality in him: memorise so much information to be able to take any piece of it at any time and pack it into a marvelous text. Prison couldn’t take this wonderful quality from him.
We expected the attack on Nasha Niva and we expected they would first attack the managers of the edition, people who had worked there for a long time and represent the edition. The mission of the authorities is to behead the media, seize the editors holding the media together. Andrei Dynko, Andrei Skurko and Yahor Martsinovich were all morally prepared for persecution. We could not foresee, however, the day it would happen and how long it would last.
The case against Andrei and Yahor is purely political. Just as all other Belarusian journalists, they are not prisoners for some actual crimes they committed but because the freedom of speech is being gradually, stepwise destroyed in Belarus. So it perfectly fits the authorities’ concept—to take out any expression of this freedom.
The biggest trouble is letters. We know many people are writing to Andrei, but few letters actually reach him. So I communicated with him through his family and lawyers, sent notes. But I’ve seen the letters he writes to his wife Paulina. It’s a book, their personal, intimate one which will remain with them forever.
If I met Andrei now, I would tell him how much I admire him. I could not imagine that such a thoughtful philosopher could manifest in him for all of us. I’ve always known he is a unique and talented person, but now I also know he is a philosopher and a poet. I would tell him he overcame all the hardships in a very worthy manner.
I’ve known Andrei for quite a long time, for about ten or fifteen years. We met at Nasha Niva, but I’d known about him for a while before that because my parents and his parents studied at the Faculty of Philology at the same time. So we were long-distance acquaintances of sorts.
I started to work with Nasha Niva closely when I took the position of Deputy Editor-in-chief of Nasha Historyja. I then became closer with Andrei because I started to visit the editorial office more often. Andrei was one of the top authors at Nasha Historyja, his articles were the most interesting ones, he often wrote about the heroes of the issue.
Andrei is a man of many talents. He can write journalistic, historic pieces, poems for children, fairy tales, stories. I think Andrei is one of the emblematic persons in Belarus. Everything he does he does on the highest level possible. He is an intellectual, he is a well-read, complete, extraordinary person. The letters he writes to his wife show he manages to read and analyse a lot even in prison.
Andrei is diligent, dutiful and self-demanding. His texts—at least those I’ve seen—have never been raw, but always polished and submitted on time.
He has a moral and ideological ramrod. He has only written about things he was interested in and not in conflict with his views.
Andrei is focused, constantly working on himself and stands his ground and keeps his creative spirit up even in the most complicated conditions when many would give up, lose hope.
If I met him now, I would express my respect and admiration to the way he handles himself, to his strength, creative shape he managed to keep. Andrei showed himself as an extraordinary person in prison, with no exaggeration.
I met Andrei before he entered the Faculty of Philology of BSU [Belarusian State University—Ed.]. Then we lived at the same dormitory in Kastryčnickaja Street [in Minsk], in one block. I lived in one room and Andrei Skurko and Andrei Kuznechik, who is also in prison now, shared the other one [Andrei Kuznechik was detained on 25 November 2021 and later recognized as a political prisoner].
Andrei is a highly responsible person, he has a lot of obligations and fulfills them all. He is, as they say, the one to share a foxhole with. He is talented and can do a lot of things: he writes popular scientific articles, historic texts, poems for children, he created comics for teenagers and adults printed in Nasha Historyja and Caution: Kids magazines.
Andrei is a great editor and an excellent manager. Moreover, he is not only capable of creative or managing work, but knows manual labour: he makes good furniture. He made a big wooden table we used to gather around when developing comic scripts.
Here is a story. We sat together—I, Andrei Dynko, Natalka Babina, Andrei Skurko—and brainstormed the name of a new children’s magazine. We couldn’t come up with a name for quite a long time. It was mainly Natalka, Andrei Dynko and I who suggested anything. Andrei Skurko just sat there quietly and then suddenly said, ‘Let’s name it «Caution: Kids».’ And we all understood it was exactly the name we needed.
That’s Andrei: very calm, quiet but when he speaks he always hits the mark.
I was at their hearing. He was behind bars, we were about fourty centimeters apart. When a recess was announced I said to him, ‘We are praying for you.’ I know he needs support, spiritual as well. The understanding that there are people who worry about him, there is God who cares about him.
I remember how Andrei and Paulina met, when they fell for each other. It was my younger son’s birthday and Andrei came to our place with some documents. We were in the middle of celebration, Andrei played the guitar and I noticed how he and Paulina were looking at each other. I think their relationship started then and there.
After some time, I think after about six month of dating, there was their wedding. They decided to wear vyshyvankas [traditional embroidered clothes —Ed.] and I remember how we embroidered a dress for Paulina and a shirt for Andrei.
Andrei is thirteen years older than Paulina and to be honest I didn’t quite see how they would get along. Andrei is tough, harsh, strong and Paulina gentle, loving. And they made a perfect couple.
Andrei as a professional is firm and demanding. He has always expected high professionalism from the people he worked with.
After Andrei was imprisoned, Paulina started to write him letters every day. I argue with her sometimes because the baby needs attention and there are daily chores as well. But she puts her son to sleep and writes her letters. The room is dark and only her computer screen is lit up. She writes about her love, about her day, every detail about the baby: what he said, what he did that day.
I’ve got no words to comment on the situation. I can only help. Andrei lives his life, Paulina his wife, my daughter, our little Tomash who doesn’t really understand it and only knows that daddy is away in a castle.
They live their lives suffering for us all, it’s their fate. Andrei has an opinion that one needs to go through this. I rather agree. It is very important for Belarus, extremely important that thousands of people going through the same: mother or father in prison, their family, friends are waiting for them, it’s being discussed, sympathized; I hope it will become something eventually.
Andrei loves his parents very much. He used to call his mother every day to tell about his day. After he was arrested, Paulina calls them at a set time.
I noticed how Andrei’s parents got older. Especially his father. His mother is more resilient, just like any woman. I don’t know how, but we women are capable of withstanding all this. But his father even seems shorter now. He is very worried but he knows he has to hold on because all these events will become a foundation for the future.
It seems to me Andrei is one of the examples proving that people in prison not only affect their own fate, but that of the whole country.
He has a rich background. It turned out, his great-grandparents were sent to exile to Kazakhstan. They managed to survive there and returned home. They were hard working people, they had their own land. It all has an imprint in Andrei. The things he is going through now, and we with him, are the things we have to go through.
I sent a telegram to Andrei on Maksim Tank’s birthday, ‘Today is Maksim Tank’s birthday. You’re Skurko and he was Skurko. He was imprisoned and so are you. He was released and so will you. He became a classic and so will you.’
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