Journalist arrested over Swedish teddy bear pics

A journalist who posted pictures of "pro-free speech" teddy bears like those dropped by Swedes in Belarus in early July has been arrested by the country's security services as organizers of the stunt released more video footage of the flight.

Journalist arrested over Swedish teddy bear pics

Journalist Anton Suryapin was among the first to publish images of teddy bears reportedly found on the ground in in Belarus holding pro-free speech slogans, posting several images on the news website he manages, Belarusian News Photos (

The bears were dropped in the early morning of July 4th as part of a publicity stunt carried out by Swedish PR firm Studio Total as a show of support for pro-democracy activists in Belarus.

But at the weekend it emerged that Suryapin had been arrested by Belarusian security police on July 13th and was being detained for 72 hours, according to Russian media reports and reports on Charter 97, a news website associated with the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.

Suryapin’s partner at Belarusian News Photos, Sergey Yagelo, also tweeted about his colleague’s arrest and posted news of the event on the site, explaining that investigators had called Suryapin’s mother to inform her of her son’s arrest.

“He said that Anton Suryapin had been detained for 72 hours to determine the involvement of the editor in the ‘Swedish assault’,” Yagelo wrote, along with a screenshot of text messages from Suryapin saying his apartment had been searched.

Defence ministry officials in Belarus continue to dismiss the Swedish teddy bear drop as a “hoax”, and media in Sweden were also initially sceptical that Studio Total had actually organized and carried out the daring flight into restricted air space.

However, Studio Total at the weekend released nearly 90 minutes of additional video footage shot from the plane which includes scenes from the take-off in Lithuania as well as aerial shots from the town of Ivyanets, the town outside of Minsk where residents reported finding teddy bears on the ground following the July 4th flight.

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A white car can be seen on the ground from which Studio Total founder Per Cromwell shot video of the plane as it flew over Ivyanets.

Experts consulted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) confirmed that the footage had not been edited and were also able to verify where the plane crossed over the Lithuania-Belarus border with the aid of Google maps.

It remains unclear if Suryapin’s arrest is at all connected to the release of the additional video footage, the first installment of which was posted on July 12th as part of an ongoing effort by Studio Total to certify that the stunt actually took place following initial doubts that the flight was a hoax.

Speaking with The Local following Suryapin’s arrest, Studio Total’s Tomas Mazetti, who was one of the pilots on the plane, said concern over such arrests was “one reason we needed to be vague” in the release information immediately following the drop.

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The images posted by Suryapin on July 4th were among the first to show teddy bears which appear to be identical with the bears dropped over Belarus from the Studio Total plane.

When contacted by The Local on July 5th regarding the images, Suryapin explained they had been sent to him via email.

“I received the pictures from an anonymous person with a dubious e-mail address,” Suryapin told The Local.

The text of the email sent with the pictures claimed the sender was “a few dozen kilometres” outside of Minsk and told of how he or she came across the collection of plush toys.

“At 8 am I went outside and saw the plane flying. He was flying very low, and I even saw the person flying it. I waved to him, and he threw me three bears with flags on parachutes!” the email read, according to Suryapin.

The brazen publicity stunt began when Mazetti and fellow Studio Total colleague Hannah Lina Frey took off from a small airfield in neighbouring Lithuania and penetrated Belarusian airspace headed for the capital Minsk with the aim of dropping 1,000 stuffed bears on the presidential palace of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The agency carried out the teddy bear drop, which took several months of planning and cost roughly 1 million kronor ($143,000) was meant to draw attention to Belarusian opposition groups such as Charter 97 and “Tell the Truth!” which are fighting for free speech in Belarus – a country ruled since 1994 by Lukashenko, who is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator”.

David Landes

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“Go all the way – doubt kills everything”

SI alum Katsiaryna Syrayezhkina tells SI News about a recent event she organized in Minsk about sustainable living, and advises current students and alumni on how to make a difference.

On September 16th, the seminar “Sustainable lifestyle: small actions, big difference” took place in Minsk, Belarus, in cooperation with the Association of European Business and ODB-Brussels (Belgium).

SI alum Katsiaryna Syrayezhkina was behind the initiative, where key topics included sustainable lifestyle, ecological foot prints, eco-friendly initiatives, sustainable consumption, and energy efficient housing

“I was inspired by the Smart Living Exchange organized by the Swedish Institute and its partner organizations,” Katsiaryna tells SI News.

“As an SI alumna, I decided to replicate this experience in my country and organize a seminar covering sustainable transport, consumption and housing practices in Sweden and Belarus.”

During the seminar, experts and participants discussed the barriers, triggers, and motivators of moving towards healthier choices and a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials.

The Swedish and Belarusian experts spoke about “circular” economy and the economy of “sharing”, links between “couch-surfing”, cycling infrastructure and sustainable development, EU sustainable practices, and partnerships between businesses and NGOs.

The event participants thus were given the opportunity to compare both the Belarusian and European experience of such matters.

Katsiaryna says the event was a success, but that one of the main challenges was simply getting other alumni involved and interested.

“It's always difficult to get local SI alumni interested,” she says, “so I always try to think about some extra benefits for attendees.”

Benefits this time included an excursion to BelVTI recycling plant  on the same day, and participants also had the opportunity to taste a vegetarian buffet organized by the VegaMara project team.

Another key challenge was getting Swedish experts to come speak at the event.

“Belarus doesn’t seem to be at the top of the list of countries to visit,” she remarks.

But in the end the work paid off, and Katsiaryna noted that there are many similarities between the two countries – and that they should work together more.

“I think we have much in common with Swedes: mentality, history .. even weather!” she says.

Having studied in many countries – including France, Poland, Belgium, and Sweden – Katsiaryna says that it’s hard to know what exactly has made her the person she is today, but that her time abroad has definitely affected her in many ways.

“The most important thing is that I learned to take the opportunity to fail,” she confides. “We take things way too seriously in post-Soviet countries, while the most important thing in life is to enjoy yourself in everything you do.”

For those who are currently studying with the SI programme in Sweden, Katsiaryna recommends being open and totally embracing the experience.

“I would advise current students to immerse themselves in a new culture, rather than trying to recreate a little 'home' and hide inside from everybody,” she says.

 As for the other SI alumni – if you have something to share, just do it.

“Don’t have second thoughts, just give it a try and go all the way,” she says. “Otherwise you start hesitating and as we all know, doubt kills everything.”