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'Miss Wheelchair World' Barred From Trendy Minsk Nightclub, Claims Discrimination


Alyaksandra Chychykava: "Whatever they say about the security issues...in fact, I suspect the reason [for excluding me] is different." (file photo)

Beauty pageant winner Alyaksandra Chychykava was quite surprised when the doorman at a trendy bar in the Belarusian capital turned her and her friends away one evening for her "own safety."

Chychykava, who last year was crowned Miss Wheelchair World, argued with the Fog bar's doorman and its manager and finally got them to agree to have a friend carry the wheelchair-bound Chychykava down the steps into the subterranean hot spot, located on Minsk's buzzing Zybitskaya Street.

"Many people have heard about this bar and...we wanted to check it out," Chychykava told RFE/RL's Belarus Service about the February 25 incident, "but we couldn't."

The 23-year-old was then told that she could come inside the Fog if her "escorts" agreed to take responsibility for her safety, as there were lots of "inebriated people" there and she would be "uncomfortable."

They agreed, and while one friend carried her down the steps another brought her wheelchair down. But after a stumble with the wheelchair, the Fog manager immediately declared Chychykava's friend drunk and ordered them all to leave. She later acknowledged that at least one of her group was "not quite sober."

After a long argument, Chychykava and her friends agreed to go.

"I think my rights have been violated. I was not provided the service that I was entitled to and which was the reason I came to this bar," Chychykava said. "Whatever they say about the security issues...in fact, I suspect the reason [for excluding me] is different [and due to me being in a wheelchair]."

Employees at the Fog bar told RFE/RL they did not want to comment on the incident. The bar's manager, Veranika Shyshkouskaya, did not answer calls to her phone number.

Activist Syarhey Drazdouski
Activist Syarhey Drazdouski

"In this incident, it is obvious that [the Fog] did not want to let a customer enter because she was a disabled person," said Syarhey Drazdouski, an activist for the rights of people with disabilities.

"First, we will send Alyaksandra's complaint to the bar's owner and wait for a response," he said. "In general, it is normal procedure in such a situation to give a chance for the owner to change the attitude and draw some conclusions."

Drazdouski said that since 1994 it is illegal in Belarus for any buildings or legal entities not to offer wheelchair access.

"And that is the case for any place -- a [coffee shop], restaurant, cafeteria, or even an underground bar," he said. "And the fact that [the Fog] is operating the way it is, when people in wheelchairs cannot enter the [public places] without somebody's assistance, this is a question for the [Minsk] city authorities."

"What do the police have to do with that?" queried a woman at the Minsk city police press office when asked about the Fog being required to provide wheelchair access. She vowed to look into the issue and respond, but did not.

Drazdouski said that in addition to failing to provide access to disabled patrons, the Fog has no right to impose security regulations or put restrictions on someone with a disability.

"This is not even allowed by [Belarus's] constitution, not to mention the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which covers this issue in more detail," he said.

Belarus in 2016 became a signatory to the CRPD, which was adopted by the United Nations a decade earlier.

Under the document, the Belarusian government undertakes the responsibility to ensure that all people with disabilities have equal conditions "for life and work" as all other citizens and to protect the disabled from being discriminated against.

Chychykava, who is studying psychology and education and also acts at Minsk's Free Theater, said she just wants to be treated like anyone else.

"I want to relax and be able to visit different places, but [for me, the Fog] is not safe!" she wrote on Instagram.

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich
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