Just 17 when she decided to flee the Belarusian capital Minsk, Angelina Bets is now studying her master’s degree in international trade policy at the University of Warsaw.
The now 23-year-old moved to Poland ahead of the 2020 crisis and said she left Belarus after friends who read poetry were intimidated by police.
She told TFN: “The turning point for me was when my friends gathered in a park in Minsk, it was Poetry Day or something like that and my friend was reciting poetry out loud in Belarusian.
“The police came to us and were extremely aggressive. I was scared and began to see that the reality there is not right and that I had to change it.”
Bets never planned to move abroad, but this incident changed her mind. She continued, “I really love my country and miss it, but no, I could never imagine going back there. It was very tough for me when I moved here, I was never a person who dreamed of living abroad.
“It was a quick decision for me. It was difficult for me to feel good here in Poland at the beginning. I missed my parents, my friends, my home, but I had no choice so I can’t go back. I worked hard for my degree, I will do my master’s, but in Belarus I have nothing, they will not recognize these qualifications.
“I won’t have a career, I won’t have any chances and I have no future there. In Poland I know that when I work, I have money and can live, and in Belarus this is not the case.
“It is not a country for people with ideas who want to develop or for people who love freedom.”
Due to ancestors on the paternal side of the family, she moved to Lublin and had a “karta Polaka” (Polish card) showing that she belonged to the Polish nation.
She studied the Polish language and Polish history in Lublin for a year before moving to Warsaw to study at the university.
Like many of her compatriots, Bets found living alone abroad a bit overwhelming at the age of 17.
She believes that Belarusians and Poles have a similar mentality, which was repeated by all Belarusians TFN spoke to, adding: “I liked Lublin, it is a very beautiful historical city and it was better for me to go there to pull as Warsaw initially.
“It was smaller, people are less in a hurry and easier to handle. Then it was difficult to move to Warsaw after a year and start over, but I got to know people, we became friends, they introduced me to their friends and slowly I built up a network. “
Although she moved before last year’s protests, Lukashenko and his regime is the only form of government she has known. Bets said: “I was from the opposition, I spoke freely about my opinion and knew that I would not have the education or career I wanted, I would not have a future in Belarus.
“When I moved it was a quieter situation than last year, but I knew that I would not be able to achieve my dreams in Belarus because everything is blocked for certain people in society. I can dream in Poland. “
Bets has also started helping others from Belarus with government documents to obtain residence permits and start their own businesses.
She said: “Here in Poland there are many opportunities, but not everyone knows how to access them and I want to help them.
“I want to help them realize their own ideas, which they couldn’t do in Belarus.”
WHY PEOPLE LEAVE BELARUS:
The Lukashenko regime is described by many as the last dictatorship in Europe. Although there are systematic elections, the results have been questioned by international observers and condemned the repressive way the country was run.
The biggest protests in the country’s history exploded after Lukashenko’s 2020 election victory, which saw him take his sixth term in office. The day after his inauguration, the EU issued a statement denying the legitimacy of the elections and calling for new elections.
In August 2020, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared: “In a situation where life, health and safety are at stake, no time can be wasted. We are therefore proposing a detailed package that promises no visas and, in certain cases, no documents, and facilitates access to the labor market. “
Numerous students in Poland have been given a safe haven, their studies have been paid for and scholarships have been offered to facilitate their survival during their studies by the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA). In addition to the “Solidarity with Students” program, funds for scientists were made available through the “Solidarity with Scientists” and “Solidarity with Teachers” programs.
Workers poured across the border, many highly skilled workers who would add value to the Polish economy, which remained resilient despite the impact of COVID.
On September 1, the United Nations Human Rights Office cited over 450 ill-treatment of detainees after protests, some of the allegations relating to sexual abuse and rape, and torture. A report released by the Viasna Human Rights Center late this year showed the number of documented torture cases rose to over 1,000.