Belarus: Man Sets Himself on Fire in Front of Government Building

A man who identified himself as Nikolai Vasilenko pulls off his burning coat in the central square in Minsk, Belarus Wednesday, July 2, 1997. Vasilenko, 42, tried to burn himself during a protest against the authoritarian rule of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, but as soon as the flames blazed up, …
AP Photo/Sergei Grits

A 35-year-old man has been hospitalized in grave condition after setting himself on fire in Minsk’s Independence Square on Friday, the Polish news channel Belsat TV reported.

Eyewitness video footage of the incident began circulating on social media on Friday morning. One video “showed a man engulfed in a fiery ball rolling on the ground for several seconds, with what appears to be a gas canister nearby,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Another clip “shows police officers trying to cover him with a blanket to extinguish the fire.”

The man was treated at a local hospital, where doctors said he had sustained burns on more than 50 percent of his body.

“Ambulance medical workers transported the victim to the Republican Burn Center,” the Belarusian health ministry reported on January 22, adding that the man remained “unconscious.”

Government authorities in the national capital have launched an investigation into the incident, a spokeswoman for the Minsk city administration, Natallya Hanusevicha, said on Friday.

Belarus Interior Ministry spokeswoman Volha Chamadanava issued a statement saying that “at this point, it is not possible to give detailed information on the incident.”

“The investigative group was dispatched to the site. As soon as we know all the circumstances around the incident, we will let the public know,” Chamadanava said on January 22.

The incident took place near the Belarus Government House, which houses the Belarus National Assembly, one of the highest organs of state power in the ex-Soviet country. Independence Square has hosted anti-government protests since August 2020, when a disputed general election sparked a popular uprising demanding the ouster of Belarus’s first and only president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Belsat TV cited an unverified report by the Belarusian news site nn.by claiming that the 35-year-old man is named Pavel B. and allegedly works as a trolleybus driver in Minsk.

“His ex-wife told the newspaper Pavel had a drink issue. State-run news agency BelTA puts focus on the fact that the man has been repeatedly charged under Article 328 of the Criminal Code (illegal drug turnover),” Belsat TV reported.

A person named Andrey claiming to be friends with Pavel B. told Belsat TV that he “questioned the state-run media’s allegations that Pavel was in a state of intoxication” at the time of his self-immolation.

“I borrowed books about the history and culture of Belarus from him. It was obvious that he constantly worried about what was happening in the country. He has been concerned over injustice; his soul and heart are bleeding for Belarus. He has made a very strong move. I do hope for his recovering,” Andrey said, implying that the act may have been a response to Belarus’s recent political turmoil.

Belsat TV is a news channel co-funded by the Polish foreign ministry and international donors but aimed at Belarus.

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