Today we are proud to present a piece with a strong message, a project made by young people, for us all to see. Context is important here, for those of you that follow current events, the situation in Belarus might not be new to you. But most of us aren’t living it and even more of us can hardly imagine what it is like to be a young skateboarder in a situation like that. So we urge you to not only watch but also read what Sasha Naumik has to tell you. Enjoy!

Interview by Roland Hoogwater.
Photos by Sasha Naumik & Dimi Shubin.

Hello Sasha, how are you? can you tell me a little about yourself?

Hi! My name is Sasha Naumik, I live in Minsk, I am 21 years old.

When did you start skating?

I got my first skateboard back in 2007, but I seriously started skating in 2009. That is the moment this journey started.

So how long did it take you to start filming?

I always liked the filming process, I took part in the videos my friends made & edited insta videos. I started filming in 2019, on a VHS-camera, my friends and I started with a small 1-minute video. Since then the goal has been to film a full-length video. At the beginning of 2020 we got a sony vx 2100 with fisheye and we started working on a video.

So what is Optika then?

Optika is a creative group of friends who are inspired by skateboarding, clothing, and music. We broadcast our vision of skateboarding in Belarus via film, videos, arrange events & make clothes. We also love the music and parties scene very much. our homie akaks makes electronic music and has become one of the best DJs in Minsk. First of all, this project is all about friendship and love for what we do. We want people to hear about Belarus not only because of the political situation, but we also have a lot of talented people around us.

The local spot is closed due to the protests

True and it was very interesting for us to take a look into that scene. Even though there is a pandemic and lots of protests in your country you still managed to travel a bit. Tell us about where you went.

Due to the pandemic, it was only possible to get into Russia, so we went to Moscow. We also visited the Belarusian city of Grodno.

I actually went to Moscow alone and took a camera with me. Moscow, compared to Minks has an amazing number of spots. While I was there I filmed a few tricks of myself and my local friends.

For those that have not been paying attention, can you tell us a bit about the political situation in Belarus?

It all started in the spring of 2020 when the presidential race and the collection of signatures for candidates started. At this stage, the authorities once again showed themselves from their worst side and began to prevent independent candidates from being elected. They did this by annulling signatures and detaining candidates using the police force. Then pickets of solidarity with the detainees began, large chains of people lined up in all Belarusian cities. Those protests were met with detentions. My friends and I also took part in these demonstrations.

The main issue began after August 9, when Lukashenko falsified the election results. A lot of mass-protests began in the entire country of Belarus. The cities became quite unsafe. Before my trip to Moscow, I took part in all actions, those were attended by hundreds of thousands of people in Minsk alone. That feeling was incredible, the spirit of unity.

But during that time torture, repression and murder began on the part of the authorities. Many of my friends ended up in isolation wards. They were beaten, threatened, and intimidated, not to mention the fines. It was complete chaos, the sound of flash bangs exploding, blood, screams, car horns. Minsk became the epicenter of the protest.

Our main skate spot – a Second World War monument became one of the gathering centers for the protesters. Which in turn started to be guarded by armed police in order to prevent the protesters from gathering there. There was no question of skating there, after that. When such events happen in your own country, skateboarding fades into the background. Still, we managed to film a video in this difficult year. But we did not manage to do everything that we planned to do.

It is hard to imagine what that might feel like! As you said in your first e-mail, Belarus is the center of Europe. Do you feel more drawn to the west than the east?

To the west, to a more civilized and free world than the one in which I currently live. Leaving the association with the Soviet Union and everything connected with it behind me.

You guys skate some monuments in the video, we heard that that can often lead to problems with local people but in this video we also see local people helping you move stuff so you can skate it. How is skateboarding seen in Belarus?

In Belarus, they look at us as savages and vandals who can only destroy monuments. The adult people do not understand us, there is no support at the state level either & there is not a single good skate park in the whole country. We only skate street, which we are absolutely not upset about. Often you have to run from the police. They kick us out almost everywhere, and in connection with the latest events, they can, for example, look at your phone, to see if there is something on there that is connected with the protest movement. If they do find something like that they can put you in an isolation ward or simply beat you up. There are exceptions though, there are a lot of good people living in Belarus!

Just a little taste of the scale of the protests.

Tell us a bit about the people in the video, who are they?

All the people who took part in the video are my friends from Belarus and Russia. Our team consists of 5 people, not all of whom skate. So basically I am filming with my best friend. During this project, I filmed everyone I would like to see in the video, so the people that are in the video are not only from the Optika project.

You didn’t do part but a mix, why is this?

I started going through the filmed material and came to the conclusion that it should be a mix. although I kinda wanted to do that from the beginning 🙂 It took us about 6 hard months to film this video. The next goal is to film a video with parts, for which maximum effort and time will be put in. I constantly think about filming and skateboarding & finding music for future projects. Unfortunately, due to a knee injury, I am not sure that I will be able to do any tricks myself, I haven’t skated for 3 months and I don’t know when I can get back to it. In any case, I will still be filming my friends, enjoying the process, and working to improve my editing.

Final question, “Have A Nice Life” is the title for the video, why this title after such a tough year? 

Because that is what I wish for all people! At this difficult time, to not forget that there are so many good things around us. Kindness and love are the keys to everything. The title was also inspired by the name of a post-punk band that I really like.

Awesome, it is really nice to hear those kind words after hearing about your 2020. Thank you for working with us to bring this kind of content to the skateboard world.

Thank you Place for this opportunity, also thanks to everyone who took part in this project, much love!