Since the beginning of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, the number of Belarusian citizens applying for visas to the Republic of Poland has sharply increased. The applications are filed not only in Belarus itself, but also outside the country. One of the countries hosting a lot of Belarusians now is Georgia.
FYI: the main reasons for the increased number of applications:
- A sharp rise in the number of repressions against the active civilian population. Moreover, some of the repressions are already directly linked to the war in Ukraine: Belarusians are starting to be persecuted because of their anti-war views and open position on the issue;
- Parents decide to move as the situation in educational institutions is getting worse and the ideology of the dictatorial regime is being forced on their children;
- Men refuse to do military service because the Lukashenko regime is a co-aggressor in the Russian warfare against Ukraine.
If the first two reasons have existed since August 2020, the third is completely new to most human rights organizations. Of course, refusals to serve in the army and desertion were present in Belarus before, but not on such a massive scale.
Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, supported by the dictator Lukashenko, prompted many men to urgently leave the country. Some had already received draft notices from the Defense Ministry, some decided not to risk being called to the military registration and enlistment offices.
We decided to ask a few questions to one of those who refused to join the army for reasons of conscience. Now Igor (name changed for security reasons) is in Georgia. He left Belarus on March 11, 2022, soon after the hostilities in Ukraine started.
“Why did I leave? I think I’m not the only one who made such a decision very quickly. Although it is unlikely that a person with conscience would think for a long time whether to go to war on the side of our common enemy with Ukrainians, which is Russia, or to leave the country. However, I do not rule out that some were driven by fear. It is also normal to be afraid of being killed. Ukrainians are defending their homeland, they don’t have time in the battlefield to figure out whether you are actually for them, but were forced to, or against them”.
A certain proportion of the young men that got drafted to the army in late February, March or April, were in the process of preparing for their graduation and final exams, but had to forget about their studies.
“I had to drop out of college. Of course, that issue was very unnerving and still is. After all, having, in fact, officially only nine years of education, I cannot go to university in Europe, for example. I really hope that that issue can be resolved quickly, and I will get help. However, if the threat is not just service in the army, but real war, and on the side of evil, no matter how pompous it may sound, it is better to leave everything, than to become an enemy of the entire country which, unlike Russia, I call a brother country”.
Men, young people, and whole families urgently left Belarus in late February and throughout March. Undoubtedly, the countries where Belarusians don’t need visas were the easiest choice. Therefore, according to the official data, at least 20 thousand Belarusians entered Georgia during that period, 60% of them were males. Georgia is a country of the sea and the sun, but some routine everyday issues are not so easy there.
“I was lucky – I found a job, despite my age and lack of experience. However, in any case, it’s not so easy in Georgia, precisely because many Belarusians have arrived here. The accommodation prices are rising, there are not enough jobs for everyone. Probably, this is why many Belarusians saw Georgia as a staging post. Eventually, they face the fact that it’s not easy to receive a humanitarian visa to Georgia: it’s difficult to get an appointment at the embassy, and some people are even denied visas. Georgia is considered to be a free country, after all”.
ICCI “Our House” has already raised at the highest level the issue of Belarusians obtaining visas in the countries they were forced to flee to. However, the process has not been optimized yet and still takes too much time. Our human rights organization provides legal support, draws up petitions on our behalf for Belarusians who were forced to leave their homeland for military or political reasons. It is worth taking into account the fact that the majority of such people are also threatened with criminal cases now.
“After I left, I was informed that they brought criminal charges against me for evading military service. The last time my parents were called at the end of May and were warned that if I did not return before May 30, they would have taken me to court. It’s very… I don’t know how to say it, both unpleasant and frightening. It’s frightening that someone can go with weapons against Ukrainians. Belarusians don’t want to fight with Ukraine – it’s a fact. Nevertheless, you can be forced to if you don’t have time to leave or hide”.
Unfortunately, according to the latest reports, the Lukashenko regime continues to support the aggressor, Russia and Putin. As part of the “NO means NO” campaign, we are collecting materials on the situation in the army in Belarus, and it gives rise to persistent fears that Lukashenko will eventually agree to send Belarusian soldiers to fight in Ukraine. The process of help to those who refuse to go to the army must be set up. The only option to avoid becoming a weapon in the hands of the regime is to leave Belarus. Our common task is to make sure that young guys and men of conscription age know and understand that they will be supported if they take that decision and will be helped to adapt in a foreign country and to solve all current problems they encounter.