MINSK, Belarus — With masked riot police officers massing nearby, threatening to attack protesters like him with batons and fists, Aleksei D. Zulevsky felt safe for the first time in weeks of anti-government unrest in Belarus: He was surrounded by hundreds of women he knew would shield him.
“I feel protected here,” said Mr. Zulevsky, as fellow protesters, many holding red and white flags, the banner of the opposition, chanted at a rally last month. “Only cowards beat women!”
In a country whose strongman president, Aleksandr. G Lukashenko, has openly scoffed at women as too weak for politics and told them their place was in the kitchen, Belarusian women have become the face and driving force of a movement aimed at toppling a leader known as “Europe’s last dictator.”
That effort may be flagging, with Mr. Lukashenko refusing to give up power even though tens of thousands of people continue