A rehearsal of “Burning Doors” by the Belarus Free Theater on tour in Finland in 2017. (Misha Friedman)

Svetlana Sugako and Nadezhda Brodskaya, the couple who run the Belarus Free Theater, are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2017. (Misha Friedman)

Photojournalist Misha Friedman has been reporting on LGBTQ issues in Eastern Europe since 2012 and will be publishing his second book on the topic this month, “Two Women in Their Time: The Belarus Free Theatre and the Art of Resistance.” Both this and his first book are part of the Diverse Humanity series.

The book, in collaboration with writer Masha Gessen, follows the Belarus Free Theater and the couple, in work and in life, who run it, Svetlana Sugako and Nadezhda Brodskaya.

“I first met Sveta and Nadya in 2017,” Friedman told In Sight. “I photographed them and the theater company in Belarus and on tour abroad in Finland, Canada and the United States.”

“What I found fascinating and very telling was how different Sveta and Nadya acted at home and abroad. In Belarus, their world was contained by their rural home and the theater company. Despite being part of the resistance, they organized their life to limit exposure to [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko and the state. At the same time, I watched them being a lot more open with each other publicly whenever they were abroad. They were holding hands, kissing and generally feeling very comfortable as a couple in these environments.”

Friedman remains in touch with Sugako and Brodskaya, and recently he was back in Belarus covering the presidential elections and subsequent protests. The couple was arrested Aug. 9 and spent five days in Okrestina jail in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

“Since then, the theater company has been performing in different neighborhoods on the outskirts of Minsk,” Friedman noted. “As people continue to protest, a lot of street action has shifted to outer boroughs.

“Nobody expected this protest movement to become so massive. Sveta and Nadya have been part of the resistance for many years, and they themselves did not expect for this to happen. It is beyond their wildest imagination.”


Nadezhda Brodskaya at home in Belarus in 2017. (Misha Friedman)

Brodskaya and Sugako take reservations for an evening performance at a secret location in Minsk, Belarus, in 2017. The theater advertises its plays on social media without specifying the location. Those who want to attend have to call Brodskaya to book their seats, which are free and first-come, first-served. (Misha Friedman)

A rehearsal of “Burning Doors” on tour in Canada in 2018. (Misha Friedman)

Sugako and Brodskaya attend Toronto Pride in 2018. (Misha Friedman)

Sugako at home in Belarus in 2017. (Misha Friedman)

Theatergoers in Minsk gather outside after the play, 2017. (Misha Friedman)

Sugako is not only a stage manager; she also occasionally performs onstage, as seen here in 2018. (Misha Friedman)

A performance of “Burning Doors” in Canada in 2018. (Misha Friedman)

Brodskaya and Sugako at home in a village an hour outside Minsk in 2017. (Misha Friedman)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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