For the last three years, repression in Belarus has shown no signs of diminishing, and Belarusian citizens continue to leave their homeland, seeking refuge in Lithuania to escape persecution. Additionally, the number of Ukrainian refugees in Lithuania has not decreased, as they still cannot return home due to the ongoing war.
Both Belarusians and Ukrainians have been forced to seek refuge in foreign countries with very few possessions, often unable to bring even all their necessary clothing, let alone bedding, kitchenware, and household appliances. Furthermore, not everyone has the means to acquire these essentials in their new surroundings. Refugees are very grateful when they are able to access this much-needed assistance.
For several years now, the Belarusian human rights organization “Our House” has been providing such vital support to refugees in Lithuania. The humanitarian warehouse of “Our House” is open to any refugee in need of assistance. Thanks to “Maisto bankas” and the our warehouse, “Our House” has already provided food, clothing and other essential items to over 200 families. One compelling reason for the critical importance of this support for Belarusians is that refugees from Belarus do not receive any form of state aid in Lithuania and are not permitted to work while their status is under consideration. Furthermore, refugees are increasingly hesitant to register, as the Lithuanian government for the past six months, has not adhered to its initial stance of supporting refugees and the opposition, instead increasingly viewing Belarusian refugees as potential threats to national security.
Food assistance is of utmost importance for individuals compelled to flee their homes due to regime repression. The provision of a food basket goes beyond merely reducing the financial burden of acquiring essential sustenance. Often, sponsors also provide fruits, cookies, and sweets, allowing adults to more frequently bring joy to their children.
The humanitarian efforts of “Our House” in aiding refugees continue uninterrupted even in these challenging times. In August 2023 alone, Belarusian refugees in Lithuania received 2,480 kilograms of food assistance from “Our House” and “Maisto bankas”. Sixteen families of Belarusian and Ukrainian refugees also received approximately 170 kilograms of clothing and household items assistance. Additionally, “Maisto Bankas” provided indivisible food packages for Belarusian refugees. In August, these packages were distributed to 13 families, with each family member receiving a kit, totaling 26 packages for the month.
Many political refugees have had to endure profoundly traumatic experiences. That’s why “Our House” also provides accessible psychological support. Craft circles and dance-movement therapy are accompanied by moderated discussions, where refugees collectively collectively seek to process their experiences.
For example, a workshop on making flowers dedicated to the anniversary of the protests has proven highly effective. Belarusians have been using the white and red colors as symbols of their solidarity with a liberated Belarus, free from dictatorship. Crafting flowers by hand enables individuals to publicly demonstrate their support for the protest movement, while simultaneously relieving themselves of the heavy psychological burden.
Another example is the classes in art. In these sessions, participants learn a unique technique of painting on fabric, developed by Anastasia Kostenko, the masterclass instructor. They also acquire practical and theoretical skills in clothing painting. At the end of the class, participants have the opportunity to take home an original piece of art created with their own hands.
The recent meeting of the “Stitched Stories” club proved equally delightful. During this gathering, participants learned how to create adorable little hedgehogs. In the future, these charming creatures can serve as pocket-sized secret companions for children, keychains for shoppers or backpacks, and heartwarming keepsakes. Additionally, during this session, participants honed their sewing skills and acquired the art of braiding cords. They also discovered how to transform a single pattern into various animal designs.
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Throughout the month of August, refugees in Vilnius benefited from a diverse range of nine specialized sessions.