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How Belarusian "cyber partisans" help Ukraine in the war against Russia

  • Photo: ілюстративне / unsplash
  • 29 June, 2022 9:39

A group of hacker activists (or hacktivists for short) called "Cyber partisans" appeared in Belarus in the fall of 2020 in response to election fraud in Belarus, violence by security forces and mass repression. A team of anonymous IT specialists became famous for hacking the system with passport data, "leaking" recordings of conversations between security forces and officials, and recently - cyber attacks on the Belarusian railway system (BR).

Yuliana Shemetovets is the only representative of the "Cyber Partisans" known to the public. In the interview DW she told how hacker activists are connected with the Kalinovsky Regiment, which is fighting on the side of Ukraine, and are fighting Russian aggression.

Deutsche Welle: Juliana, how many hacktivists are currently in the "cyberpartisans" squad?

Yuliana Shemetovets: after the beginning of the war (in Ukraine. - Ed.) many people have been added, many of them want to join the ranks of "cyber partisans" at the moment. Last time I asked, there were about 60 of us. But not all of these people are involved in attacks and have access to certain databases. Before the war, the squad consisted of about 30 people.

I want to imagine some image of these people...

Me too (laughs).

Photo: Yuliana Shemetovets – DW

Do I understand correctly that you don't know anyone and haven't met any of them?

No, I haven't met anyone. I don't even know who's there. Certainly, there is always a small chance that there is someone I know or have heard about from friends. But I do not know their names or where they are located. My communication with "cyber partisans" and their communication with each other is anonymous. I can only say that these are guys with a good sense of humor and a rational approach, who believe in democracy and do everything possible to build a democratic system in Belarus.

Attacks on BR

What actions of "cyber partisans" do you consider the most successful in recent times?

The most successful campaign was on the railway. Now there is a war going on in Ukraine, people are dying. Therefore, it was very important to help the Ukrainians and stop the movement of Russian trains. Attacks on the railway "cyber partisans" began to discuss back in 2021 and tried to get into the system in autumn. The first attack took place in December. It was non-public, and it was important for "cyber partisans" to understand what the reaction of railway employees would be.

After the entry of Russian troops into the territory of Belarus in January, a second attack took place. It was public. Here it was important to show that Belarusians are against the possible occupation of the territory of Belarus and the presence of Russian troops on it. When the war began, the third and fourth attacks took place. They "knocked out" the automation system for two days completely.

What were the consequences?

The automation system is responsible for switching traffic lights and moving arrows. When a train approaches a certain section, the driver looks at the traffic light or arrows to understand where to go. This system has stopped working, which is very dangerous, of course. That is, people had to manually perform many processes that have been automated for the last 20 years. At the same time, there are not enough specialists at the BR.

Of course, the "ground partisans" also helped a lot. While "cyber partisans" attacked the system, they carried out attacks on relay cabinets. The combination of these factors showed the Russian regime that it is dangerous to use BR. They (representatives of the Russian authorities. - Ed.) tried to use commercial trains, because they knew that the "cyber partisans" would not attack them. We have red lines, our own ethics. And the most important rule is not to influence the lives of ordinary citizens.

Cooperation with Ukrainian hacktivists and Kalinovsky's Regiment

Do "cyber partisans" cooperate with someone else or act independently?

Mostly, they act independently, but since the beginning of the war, they actively communicate with Ukrainian hacktivists, provide them with information and certain access, give advice, because they have already gained experience, talk about mistakes and opportunities.

Do you cooperate with official Ukrainian structures?

"Cyber partisans" provide them with information that may be important. They do this either directly or through the Kastus Kalinovsky Regiment (a regiment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that includes Belarusian volunteers. - Ed.) This may be, for example, data on the location of Russian or Belarusian troops.

And what connects the "cyber partisans" with the Kalinovsky Regiment?

They actively help the regiment of Kastus Kalinovsky. First of all, it is people check. If a person wants to join a regiment, firstly, they fill out a certain form, and this data is then checked by "cyber partisans". Thus, four agents of the special services who tried to get into the regiment of Kastus Kalinovsky were eliminated.

How do you protect your informants?

The most important thing we always say is that no one can protect you better than yourself. "Cyber partisans" usually publish protection instructions, such as how to create a fake Telegram account, which VPN is best to install, and how to use the "partisan" Telegram developed by "cyber partisans". You can use it to set a special code that, for example, deletes chats or unsubscribes from certain channels.

But this does not mean that "cyber partisans" can create a magical internet or website where everything will be safe. Everyone should take responsibility, and we provide all the necessary information and are always ready to help if something is not clear.

The price of freedom

How long-term is the combat plan set out in your manifesto?

The struggle will continue until the regime is completely destroyed in Belarus and lustration is carried out.

This will probably require a lot of information.

Yes, but it is important to know that it is impossible and not necessary to lustrate everyone. A lot of people just followed the command. And those who gave the command will appear in court.

Of the "cyber partisans", you are the only one who openly represents hacktivists. But your family and people close to you are probably still in Belarus. Are you afraid for yourself and for them?

I wouldn't want to answer that question. Yes, of course, it's scary. But I don't talk to anyone about this topic, so as not to put anyone at risk. This is probably the price for freedom.


Katya Teise, Yana Schwartz - Deutsche Welle


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