Who is Nina Baginskaya, the 73-year-old Belarusian protester that takes on riot police?

As the women of Belarus’ opposition take to the streets every Saturday in the wake of President Lukashenko’s disputed election victory, one protester has become a key figure within the movement.

Nina Bahinskaya, 73, has been pictured at anti-government rallies since they kicked off, telling off police and at one point blocking one of the authorities’ armoured vehicles by standing in front of it.

Video published on Nexta’s Telegram channel showed the septuagenarian resisting arrest by police at the protest on September 12 and trying to remove one officer’s balaclava.

The confrontation served to further raise her already-elevated profile and crowds could be heard chanting “Nina” as the event unfolded.

But this is nothing new for Bahinskaya — armed with the country’s former red-and-white flag on a long pole, she has been demonstrating since long before Belarus’ recent election.

The great-grandmother has appeared at demonstrations in the country since 1988, from demanding the arrest of political prisoners to protesting the demolition of a memorial site for the victims of Soviet-era mass executions.

Sergei Grits/AP
Police take Baginskaya away prior to a demonstration against the detention of four people for their attempt to protest political repression. Minsk, Belarus. March 31, 2017.Sergei Grits/AP
Sergei Grits/AP
Baginskaya blocks a drill at the Kuropaty mass grave site of Soviet-era mass executions in the Belarus capital Minsk. April 5, 2019.Sergei Grits/AP
Sergei Grits/AP
Police officers detain opposition activist Nina Baginskaya at the Kuropaty mass grave site of Soviet-era mass executions in the Belarus capital Minsk, Friday, April 5, 2019.Sergei Grits/AP

The flag, now banned in Belarus, has become popular among opposition protesters as an anti-Lukashenko symbol.

When riot police took Bahinskaya’s flag after a march at the end of August, video captured her confronting the officer.

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
Braginskaya holds a former Belarus flag during a protest in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 22, 2020.Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Franak Viačorka, a journalist and analyst based in Minsk, Belarus, said on Twitter that protesters on September 13 informally named a square after Bahinskaya as part of an initiative which saw the opposition demonstrators assign names linked to the movement to squares and streets in the capital.

But not everyone is a fan of the 73-year-old and her tactics — in a recent report on her, the BBC pictured one woman on the sidelines of a protest shouting: “You found some half-mad babushka and you’re following her.”

As the unrest rages on in Belarus, the opposition’s silver-haired celebrity has shown no sign of taking a step back from being at the centre of the movement.

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