'Our hearts are breaking. People are dying in prison'

The BBC has been speaking to some of those whose lives have been changed forever by the protests.

Video Transcript

LEVON HALATRIAN: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- In Belarus, they tried to topple a president. The response has been brutal.

VASIL KUSHKURNO: It's a very dangerous occupation in this dangerous time.

- Now President Lukashenko has diverted a plane to catch a critic. The West is punishing him with sanctions. But Russia has his back.

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- And yet the demand for change has gone nowhere. On the streets of Minsk, life looks calm now, orderly. But last summer, a presidential election ignited a political crisis in Belarus that's still smoldering. I went to meet one of many here whose lives have been transformed.

Sara, BBC.

Levon ran a bar, but he was an opposition activist too. And last August he was arrested. He didn't see Miki for six months.

LEVON HALATRIAN: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Last year, vast crowds came out demanding change in Belarus, an end to a quarter of a century of one man's iron rule. Alexander Lukashenko teetered but never fell.

LEVON HALATRIAN: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Levon's time with his son is limited. He still has to serve a year of correctional labor somewhere far from home.

LEVON HALATRIAN: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Many have already fled. Those who remain are mostly keeping their heads down. Belarus has seen cycles of protests and repression before but not on this scale. There are hundreds of people behind bars.

I've never known Belarus like this, not in all the years I've been coming here. People now are just terrified to speak out. Because with a crackdown, with all the arrests, you never know who they'll be coming for next.

Now they're coming for the journalists. Vasil was nervous about meeting. But his wife, a prominent news editor, has just been arrested. He was waiting to hear whether Marina had been charged.

So, is there any news? Anything new?

VASIL KUSHKURNO: No, no news.

- No news.

VASIL KUSHKURNO: No news. Of course, I hope but the hope is a little one.

- Tut.by has now been closed down, the website blocked. And Marina and half her team are in custody accused of tax fraud.

VASIL KUSHKURNO: Marina was ready. It's a very dangerous occupation in this dangerous time.

- But Vasil believes Belarus has reached a turning point.

VASIL KUSHKURNO: The people were tired and they just wanted to have a chance to change.

- There's no way back from that.

VASIL KUSHKURNO: Yeah, we cannot express our position. We cannot demonstrate. But nobody has changed his mind.

- During the protests there were red and white banners and bits of cloth draped from monuments and hanging from balconies all over this city. These days, there's not a trace of that stuff left anymore. And today, people are even getting arrested for wearing red and white socks.

OLGA SIEVIARYNIEC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Olga's husband has already spent a year behind bars. All that time, these letters were their only contact. When we met, the. Couple had just seen each other in courts

OLGA SIEVIARYNIEC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Pavel got seven years for organizing mass protests.

OLGA SIEVIARYNIEC: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- So the protesters have been squeezed off the streets the challenge crushed. Alexander Lukashenko even forced a plane down to catch a dissident. As the West cuts ties, Russia is now a critical friend.

LEVON HALATRIAN: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]