Residents of a village in northeastern Belarus have complained they have had their homes bulldozed and burned to the ground without proper warning or adequate compensation from the authorities.
Villagers in Paulovichy, in the Vitsebsk region of Belarus, say that the destruction of the village is connected to an upcoming visit to the region by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Local officials, however, have said that the plan to raze the village has been in the works for a while and that the villagers had all been warned in advance and duly compensated with apartments and moving expenses. According to local officials, the land will be used for leather-industry facilities.
The villagers say that they were expecting to be moved out in the spring of 2013 but that regional officials only gave them two days to leave their property.
WATCH: Belarusian villagers confront a local official in Paulovichy about the destruction of their houses (in Belarusian and Russian):
One resident told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that officials, accompanied by police officers, came at 7 p.m. on December 1 to say that they had two days to leave their home. In total, nine people were told to leave.
Plans for the village's destruction began in 1992, when the land was leased to an energy company to build a power plant. At that time many residents were moved out and given apartments as compensation. Some villagers, mostly pensioners, stayed in their homes and the land has not been built on since.
A resident of Paulovichy said that an appeal had been lodged in May with the authorities about the plans to destroy the village, but no response was forthcoming. “We complained that nothing had been built here for the last 20 years. We asked for official permission to register the plots of land if we have houses here," the resident said.
The residents also said they contacted state television and other journalists, but didn't get a reply. They said they were concerned they would not be given proper compensation as their homes were not valued and the compensation will not include the value of their outbuildings and gardens.
Now that the buildings have been destroyed, residents say they cannot prove the value of their property in court. One woman told RFE/RL: " They burnt and cut down trees. Some people didn't even have time to get their things. The bulldozers came and tore down the houses."
RFE/RL contacted Syarhey Borodin, the head of the department of housing and communal services in the district, and asked why the village was demolished with little warning.
"It wasn't sudden," Borodin said. "It happened at a specified time and was in accordance with all applicable laws."
Borodin said that the residents were warned two months ago and received free apartments in the regional capital of Vitsebsk. For those not happy with the level of compensation, they could contest the decision in court, he said.
The village residents have said the urgency of the move was due to a planned visit to the region by Lukashenka. In recent weeks, the city of Vitsebsk has been spruced up, with fresh paint, roads relaid, and tiles replaced.
When asked whether razing the village was connected to a possible Lukashenka visit, the official said, "Oh well, you know, the head of state goes wherever he wants and when he wants. Nobody is preparing for Lukashenka's arrival."
Regional leaders in Belarus often spending money improving infrastructure in advance of presidential visits.
An independent journalist in Vitsebsk published photos
of the sudden renovations in the city. He was subsequently detained by the police after taking photos of asphalt being laid around a timber-processing plant.
Lukashenka has backed a plan to expand the leather and fur industries in Vitsebsk. Officials said a Korean company was prepared to build or upgrade a tannery.
The Belarusian president has said he wants to "diversify" the Belarusian economy in order to make the country less dependent on Western imports. Lukashenka has singled out Vitsebsk as an area that needs his attention.