There is a saying in Belarus that outsiders know the country for two things: potatoes and tractors. Asked about the dangers of coronavirus earlier this year, the president said “Tractors will heal everything.”
Workers from the plant marched across the city centre on Friday after the prime minister refused to speak to them publicly during a visit.
On Thursday, several hundred angry workers confronted the local mayor outside the gate of the BelAz heavy machinery plant in a Minsk suburb.
The country’s eight largest enterprises that have staged walkouts this week brought in a combined £9.5 billion in revenues last year, according to the Russian news website The Bell.
Once scared of losing their jobs, workers in Hrodna say they have passed the point of no return.
“That violence has changed anything – I can’t stay silent,” Larisa Rybak, a petite woman in blue-and-black overalls of the Hrodna Azot fertiliser plant, told the Telegraph as she walked out of the plant’s gate at the end of her shift to join a march into the city centre.
At 54, Mrs Rybak, who makes about £400 a month, is nearing state pension age in an economy with dim prospects, but she feels compelled to be part of the movement on the cusp of toppling President Lukashenko. “We have finally woken up, and we won’t leave till he goes.”
As the clock struck 5.30pm, she and several hundred men and women in Hrodna Azot overalls set off from the factory to join a 30,000-strong rally in the centre, chanting “Long live Belarus!” and flashing peace signs.