Belarusian refugees in Ukraine, from 2020 to 2022
According to the official statistics of the border service of Ukraine, from September 1, 2020, till December 1, 2021, 358.2 thousand Belarusians entered Ukraine. In the same period, only 320.5 thousand Belarusians left Ukraine, mostly to Poland.
It turns out, almost 38 thousand people remained in Ukraine. In the same period, 40 Belarusians applied for political asylum or for additional protection to the Ukrainian state.
Without legalization, Belarusians could spend 90 days in 6 months in the territory of Ukraine. For the year 2021, that period was doubled up to 180 days. To stay longer, a Belarusian had to get a residence permit. Without it, a person could not get officially employed, receive state assistance, study, open a bank account, get a bank card, and so on, and so forth.
From August, 2020, to July, 2021, 3042 Belarusian citizens got a temporary residence permit, and 487 – a permanent one. Also, starting from 2020, Ukraine has recognized only 9 Belarusian citizens as political refugees, and 2 more obtained the status of persons that needed additional protection.
Besides that, the Belarusian diaspora in Ukraine was thickly infiltrated with agents of the Belarusian special services, who organized various provocations, recruitment of agents and were doing everything to destroy relations of Belarusians and Ukrainians.
What problems do Belarusian refugees encounter today?
There is a whole number of problems specific exactly of Belarusians who first had run from repressions in Belarus, and then from the war in Ukraine.
– Absence of documents.
The majority of the Belarusians in Ukraine had not managed to get even a permanent residence permit before February, 2022: they had only temporary documents or no documents at all. It is clear, that in the situation of war, they turned out to be people with almost no rights at all in Ukraine.
The reason is the specifics of the Ukrainian laws, due to which it is very difficult to get a legal status in Ukraine: a person needs very substantial grounds to get even a temporary residence permit, leave alone the permanent one. In the result, 9 out of 10 Belarusians in Ukraine had not been able to get legalized before the war started, which means get a residence permit and become residents of the country. This is due to the high level of corruption in Ukraine and the fact that Belarusian refugees do not have much money with them. Thus, due to lack of financial resources, many Belarusians could not overcome the corruption barrier and were forced to stay in Ukraine illegally or semi-legally.
– Difficulties with the status when leaving Ukraine
In the first months of the war, those Belarusians who were running from it through the Western borders of Ukraine, were allowed the exit practically with no documents by the Ukrainian authorities. They also were allowed to enter Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, although quite often with huge obstacles.
However, then they found themselves in a stalemate situation: in a new country, without a right to be there and with an unclear legal status. Everything was clear with the citizens of Ukraine: they were running from the war in their country; therefore, they had no difficulties getting a residency permit and protection in European countries. Yet, the citizens of Belarus could not obtain such a status since there is no official war in their country. Moreover, they got under a threat to be deported back to Belarus, from where they had escaped not so long before.
For the Belarusians, escaping the war from Ukraine to Europe, the absence of a legal status in Ukraine as for the date of February 24, 2022, made it impossible to get help as war refugees. Thus, a legal catch appeared: Belarusians ran from the war together with the Ukrainians, but they were not considered impacted by the war in Ukraine as they had not got a residence permit there. Even in the case of their legal stay in the country.
– Impossibility to return to Belarus with damaged documents
In the first days of the war, Ukrainian border guards massively damaged passports of the Belarusians leaving the country: for example, they wrote right in the passport phrases «Putin khuylo!» or «Glory to Ukraine». Thus, the passports were damaged, and a Belarusian who had fled Belarus due to repression could not exchange it. A person with such passport could not return to Belarus due to the threat to be repressed there. Also, it became difficult to enter Poland with such passports: people had to ask for asylum right at the Polish border.
– Complications with crossing the border for political refugees
Those few Belarusians who had received political asylum in Ukraine (nine people), as it turned out, could not leave Ukraine without a visa, as the Ukrainians just would not let them exit the country.
– Impossibility to return to Ukraine to take personal belongings or to visit relatives.
Belarusians, who had not managed to get a permanent residence permit in Ukraine in time (about 95% of them), could not return to Ukraine after exiting it in the wartime, for example, to take their personal belongings they had left, or to visit their relatives.
– Bias and prejudice against Belarusians
Russian troops invaded Ukraine also from the territory of Belarus, despite Aliaksandr Lukashenka had publicly sworn many times that Belarus would never become a bridgehead for Russian aggression against Ukraine. He lied. It’s been a year, as missiles and drones had been flying from the Belarusian territory to hit peaceful Ukrainian cities and towns, and airplanes taking off to bomb them. Russian troops are preparing for new strikes in Belarus. It is clear, that that affects the attitude of Ukrainians to Belarusians, which has become very bad, also at the human, everyday level.
There are thousand stories how Belarusians were detained in Ukraine at every block post, humiliated and insulted, interrogated for long hours and even deported out of the country with no explanations. It’s difficult to blame Ukrainians for that: because of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Belarusians have become for the Ukrainians almost the same aggressors as the Russians.
A lot of facts are known, when in Ukraine owners refused to prolong rent for the Belarusians after February 24, 2022, notaries, jurists and translators refused to provide services to them, and appeals and applications from Belarusians were not accepted by the state bodies of Ukraine. In fact, till now such cases happen on a mass scale.
A separate issue is blocking bank accounts. After February 24, 2022, by the order of the National Bank of Ukraine, all bank account of Belarusian citizens were blocked. An account can be unblocked only after the Security Service of Ukraine sends its consent on each specific person to his or her bank. However, it is a long and complicated procedure, especially in the wartime. In the result, over 80% of accounts of Belarusians in Ukraine still remain frozen.
– Discrimination in new countries of stay
Having fled the war in Ukraine to the Western countries, Belarusians unwittingly turned out to be competition of the Ukrainians in such issues as humanitarian help, social security and attention of local authorities and human rights organizations. However, if the Ukrainians have been getting sympathy from all of them, the Belarusians have often encountered (and are still encountering) a negative attitude, as Belarus has a highly negative image in the West, which has worsened even more due to the co-aggressor status of Belarus. Therefore, also outside Ukraine, the necessary documents are often not issued to Belarusians and their bank operations get blocked.
– Impossibility to get help from Belarusian diplomatic missions abroad
Ukrainians get quickly and with no obstacles all kinds of help and support from Ukrainian embassies in different countries. However, those Belarusians who first fled Belarus due to political reprisals and then Ukraine because of the war, are perceived in a negative way in the embassies of the Republic of Belarus: as «runaways». In particular, the embassies cynically suggest them to go to Belarus to resolve their issues with documents, although many people cannot go back, as they will be immediately subject to repressions if they do.
While preparing this material, we have talked to several Belarusians (more precisely, to several Belarusian families), who in the recent two years have become refugees twice: first running from Belarus to Ukraine, then from Ukraine to Europe. Nevertheless, none of them agreed to be talked about in the mass media. They said directly they did not want any publicity, as they have relatives remaining in Belarus which can be subject to repressions and the KGB attacks if they go public.