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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
Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, has vehemently denied the charges and threatened Dozhd -- an independent online channel -- with a lawsuit. 

Television journalist Yekaterina Kotrikadze has directly accused powerful Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of forcing himself on her during a discussion about an interview request, claiming that journalists covering the Kremlin often face sexual harassment but are afraid of coming forward.

The on-air accusation by Kotrikadze, a deputy editor in chief of the New York-based, Russian-language RTVi channel, was made on February 27 during a discussion about multiple allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against the State Duma deputy in recent days.

All of the allegations made since February 23 were made anonymously by journalists; Kotrikadze said that she believed them because “I had the same unpleasant experience.”

Kotrikadze said she was harassed by Slutsky, a member of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and current chairman of the Duma's International Relations Committee, seven years ago while working for a Georgian TV channel.

Shortly after arriving in the Russian capital from Tbilisi, Kotrikadze said, she contacted Slutsky about arranging an interview and he invited her to his office to discuss the details.

“I entered his office. He locked the door and tried to push me up against a wall. He tried to touch me and kiss me. I broke away and ran out,” Kotrikadze said during the discussion on RTVi TV.

Kotrikadze is the first to come forward publicly in accusing Slutsky of sexual harassment.

No one talks out loud about it because we understand it wouldn't make a difference; we'd only face abuse or accusations."
-- Journalist Yekaterina Kotrikadze

Allegations of Slutsky's misconduct first came to light on February 22, when Dozhd TV presenter Yelizaveta Antonova interviewed LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Antonova, who covers Russia's lower house of parliament, asked Zhirinovsky if he was aware that Slutsky "constantly harasses young female journalists." Zhirinovsky, who is one of eight candidates in Russia's March 18 presidential election, said he would look into it.

The following day, two journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Dozhd they had been harassed by Slutsky.

A Dozhd producer also claimed Slutsky had tried to kiss and grope her before an on-air appearance.

Slutsky has vehemently denied the charges and threatened Dozhd -- an independent online channel -- with a lawsuit.

He's received support from his party.

Deputy speaker and LDPR member Igor Lebedev has proposed revoking the accreditations of Dozhd journalists who cover the Duma.

Kotrikadze said on February 27 that female reporters covering the Russian government often face such harassment.

She said a sense of fear and futility prevent them from coming forward.

"No one talks out loud about it because we understand it wouldn't make a difference; we'd only face abuse or accusations," Kotrikadze said.

At least one State Duma deputy has voiced a willingness to tackle the problem.

Oksana Pushkina said she may introduce amendments to a draft law on gender equality that would criminalize sexual harassment.

"If there are facts," she told Kommersant about the Slutsky case, "then the matter should be carried to its conclusion. This [behavior] is flourishing in our society."

And presidential candidate and journalist Ksenia Sobchak has called for a probe into the sexual harassment claims involving Slutsky.

In a statement posted on her campaign website on February 27, Sobchak said that if the allegations were true, "such actions by a deputy would be a direct violation of" the law on the status of members of the Federation Council and the State Duma.

The accusations follow on the emergence of the #MeToo movement, which aims to end sexual violence and supports survivors of sexual assault and harassment. #MeToo has been largely lampooned by the Kremlin, and a small demonstration in support of Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood film mogul who has been accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment and abuse, was held in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in November 2017.

"Thank God we live in a country where political correctness hasn't reached the absurd," Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky told Izvestia in November. "When you can't call a man a man, a woman a woman, and you have to call them a person."

In April 2014, Zhirinovsky was censored and apologized for an outburst in which he ordered his aides to rape a pregnant reporter.

He later claimed he had been on medication at the time.

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