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MMA fighter arrested during Belarus protests, remains in custody despite government’s loss of authority

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Heavyweight fighter Alexei Kudin was among those arrested during the mass protests that have taken place in Belarus over the past week. 

Opposition rally in Minsk Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

The world is witnessing a pivotal turning point in Belarus’s history.

Over the past week, historic demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting longtime president Alexander Lukashenko’s oppressive regime, rigged elections, and scenes of police brutality and torture against thousands detained during the protests. The demonstrations have continued to grow in size, leading to the worst crisis in the dictator’s 26-year reign and signalling the potential collapse of his authoritarian rule.

Seven days after Lukashenko claimed to have secured 80% of the vote in the presidential elections, tens of thousands of Belarusians gathered in Minsk to protest rigged elections and call for the downfall of the regime. The united movement of protestors was fuelled by police violence and torture against hundreds of protestors earlier in the week. Among those arrested was Alexei Kudin, an MMA fighter best known for competing in the M-1 Global heavyweight division.

On August 12, reports began to emerge that Kudin had been detained by law enforcement officers. Though it remains unclear why the fighter was arrested, several coaches and fighters have since taken to social media to defend the heavyweight. Among them was the head coach of Strela Fighting Club, Taras Kiyashko, who took to Instagram to request the Belarusian government “not to prosecute” Kudin. Former Bellator champion Alexander Shlemenko also shared his thoughts on the situation, adding that he did not want to “insult the riot police, but they, too, sometimes go too far.”

UFC fighter Alexander Volkov has also come out in support of Kudin.

“I want to support Alexei Kudin, who has repeatedly raised the flag of his country in the international arena!” Volkov wrote on his Instagram. “I, Alexander Volkov, a UFC fighter, ask you not to prosecute Alexei Kudin.”

While protests continue hold steadfast, Lukashenko has shown no intention of surrendering power. He addressed a crowd of several thousand supporters (a fraction of the size of the opposition rally) in front of the country’s parliament on Sunday, claiming that “I have never betrayed you and I never will. If you destroy Lukashenko, it will be the beginning of the end for you.”

Despite Lukashenko’s threats, a growing number of state media employees have shown support for change in Belarus through a string of resignations on national television. State media service Belteleradio saw employees walk off the job, while main news channels like Belarus 1 have either gone dark or are broadcasting reruns — a sign that Lukashenko’s state-run propaganda apparatus is crumbling beneath his feet.

Lukashenko’s challenger in the presidential election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled to neighbouring Lithuania following the rigged election but has since continued to call for protests against Lukashenko.

It remains unclear why Kudin was arrested and whether he will be released in the foreseeable future. Although detained protesters are gradually being released, there are still reports of disappearances across Belarus.