PROFILE: ‘In Poland I can dream’, says student who left Belarus after police intimidation

When Angelina Bets was 17-years-old, a ‘terrifying’ encounter with the police made her realise she had no future in her homeland. Kalbar/TFN

Just 17 when she decided to escape the Belarusian capital Minsk, Angelina Bets is now studying for her Master’s degree in International Trade Policy at Warsaw University.

Moving to Poland before the 2020 crisis, the now 23-year-old said she left Belarus after poetry-reading friends were intimidated by police.

She told TFN: “The turning point for me was when my friends gathered in a park in Minsk, it was the day of poetry or something like that and my friend was loudly reciting poetry in Belarusian.

Angelina told TFN: “The turning point for me was when my friends gathered in a park in Minsk, it was the day of poetry or something like that and my friend was loudly reciting poetry in Belarusian.Angelina Bets/

“The police came over to us and were extremely aggressive, I was terrified and I started to see the reality there is not ok and I needed to change it.”

Bets had never planned to move abroad but that incident changed her mind. She continued: “I really love my country and miss it but no, I could never imagine moving back there. It was very hard 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 hard for me to feel good here in Poland at the start. I missed my parents, my friends, my home but I didn’t have a choice so I can’t go back. I have worked hard for my degree, I will have my master’s degree but in Belarus I have nothing, they won’t recognise these qualifications.

Moving to Lublin, Angelina learned the Polish language and Polish history for a year before moving to Warsaw.Angelina Bets

“I won’t have a career, I won’t have opportunities and I don’t have a future there. I know in Poland that if I work I will have money, I will be able to live and in Belarus this is not true.

“It is not a country for people with ideas, who want to develop or for people who love freedom.”

Moving to Lublin, due to ancestors on her father’s side of the family, she had a ‘karta Polaka’ (Polish card) which showed she belonged to the Polish nation.

Now 23, Angelina is studying for a Master’s degree in International Trade Policy at Warsaw University.Angelina Bets

In Lublin she learned the Polish language and Polish history for a year before moving to Warsaw to study at University.

Like many of her compatriots Bets found living alone abroad at 17 slightly overwhelming.

She thinks that Belarusians and Poles have a similar mentality, something that was echoed by all of the Belarusians that TFN spoke to, adding: “I liked Lublin, it is a very beautiful historical city and it was better for me to move there than Warsaw at first.

Angelina has also begun helping others from Belarus with government documents, gaining residency and starting their own companies.Kalbar/TFN

“It was smaller, people are in less of a rush and easier to deal with. Then it was hard to move to Warsaw after one year and start again but I met people, we became friends, they introduce me to their friends and slowly I  built up a network.”

Even though she moved before last year’s protests, Lukashenko and his regime is the only form of government she had known. Bets said: “I was from the opposition, I talked about my opinion freely and knew that I won’t have the education or career that I wanted, I wouldn’t have a future in Belarus.

“It was a calmer situation when I moved than last year but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to achieve my dreams in Belarus because for certain people in society everything is blocked. In Poland I can dream.”

Angelina said: “I wouldn’t be able to achieve my dreams in Belarus because for certain people in society everything is blocked. In Poland I can dream.”Angelina Bets

Bets has also begun helping others from Belarus with government documents, gaining residency and starting their own companies.

She said: “There are a lot of opportunities here in Poland but not everybody knows how to access them and I would like to help them.

“I want to help them realise their own ideas, something they couldn’t do in Belarus.”

WHY PEOPLE ARE LEAVING BELARUS:

The Lukashenko regime has been labelled by many as the last dictatorship in Europe. While there are systematic elections, the results have been questioned by international observers and the oppressive nature of how the country has been run condemned.

The Lukashenko regime has been labelled by many as the last dictatorship in Europe. While there are systematic elections, the results have been questioned by international observers and the oppressive nature of how the country has been run condemned. CC BY 4.0/

The largest protests in the history of the country exploded following Lukashenko’s 2020 election ‘victory’ which saw him take up his sixth term in office. The day after his inauguration the EU published a statement rejecting the legitimacy of the elections and calling for new elections to be held.

STR/PAP/EPA

On September 1st the United Nations Human Rights Office cited over 450 abuses of detainees following protests, some of the claims included incidents of sexual abuse and rape as well as torture. A report published at the end of the year by Viasna Human Rights Centre saw the number of documented cases of torture rise to over 1,000. STR/PAP/EPA

In August 2020 Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared: “In a situation where the stakes are life, health, security, there is no time to lose. We therefore propose a detailed package promising freedom from visa charges, and in certain cases also freedom from the obligation to possess documents, and facilitated entry to the job market.”

Scores of students were given safe haven in Poland, their studies paid for and scholarships offered to help them survive while they studied through the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA). As well as the  ‘Solidary with Students,’ programme there were funds made available for academics through the ‘Solidary with Scientists’ and ‘Solidary with Teachers' programmes.

Despite the dangers, millions of Belarusians continue to protest against Lukashenko. Jeroen Jumelet/PAP/EPA

Workers streamed across the border, many highly skilled professionals who would add value to the Polish economy that remained robust despite the impact of COVID.

On September 1st the United Nations Human Rights Office cited over 450 abuses of detainees following protests, some of the claims included incidents of sexual abuse and rape as well as torture. A report published at the end of the year by Viasna Human Rights Centre saw the number of documented cases of torture rise to over 1,000.