PROFILE: Psychologist who fled Lukashenko’s Belarus tells of escape and new life in Poland
Albina Stroganova was an award-winning psychologist, who was teaching at the prestigious A.S. Pushkin Brest State University, when Belarus’s 2020 elections were held.
But after speaking out about the results and the behaviour of President Aleksander Lukashenko, Stroganova was hauled in by state police and interrogated.
Upon returning home to her four-year-old son Adrian, she realised that her house was under surveillance.
Shaken by the interrogation, Stoganova was highly concerned for her own wellbeing and that of her son.
So she decided she needed to escape before the van parked outside her house wasn’t just observing her but was being used to abduct her.
She packed quickly and headed to the border.
Stroganova’s parents had already been living in Warsaw for four years and were residents, both in successful careers, her mother also a psychologist.
The three hour car ride from Brest to the Polish capital was familiar to Stroganova, who had made the journey a number of times without incident.
She was relieved that the familiar journey would not only reunite her with her parents and Adrian with his grandparents, but would also ensure they were free to live a normal life.
That feeling of joy was slowly extinguished over an exhausting 10 hour delay at the border. This was on a summer’s day where the temperature exceeded 30 degrees and everyone on the road had the same nervous energy.
The Polish border guards explained that while Albina’s visa was ok and she was free to enter, her son had to remain in Belarus.
Heartbroken, exhausted and still in fear of her life, Stoganova was forced to return home where the observers outside her house, and the threat they represented remained.
The next day she set off on a 400 km detour and headed to the border crossing at Grodno, in northern Belarus.
This time the Polish border control were more understanding with both Albina and Adrian permitted them to cross into Poland. Later that day the family reunion in Warsaw took place and they haven’t looked back since.
Appearing as a speaker at the Belarusian Business Forum held at the Warsaw Stock Exchange last month, Albina Stroganova told TFN: “I would first of all like to thank Poland, its people and its government for giving us a safe place to work and live freely.
“I would like to thank them for offering an education system where my son can go and learn in peace, and will be free to achieve his goals based on his efforts.
“I urge the Belarusian people to come together and support each other like the Ukrainians do when they move to other countries.”
The psychologist said that she treats many patients from her home country who are struggling to adjust and a common root of that problem is a lack of a strong Belarusian community.
Although there are many Belarusians spread across Poland, Stroganova says adults find it hard to adjust and thinks they need to break the habits of the old country, where they were trained to be suspicious of those they didn’t know and embrace living in a free society.
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 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.
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.
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.