‘We have one enemy’: The Belarusians who oppose the Ukraine war

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Just earlier dawn connected February 24, Marina, a 33-year-old IT specializer from Belarus, woke up successful her Kraków apartment. She’d been having a nightmare.

She noticed that her husband, Alexey, was not sleeping either. He was connected his phone, speechmaking the news.

“Has it started?” Marina asked.

“It has,” helium responded wearily.

That time astatine work, Marina could not focus. Her hands shook. “I felt sheer horror. I could not work, I could not bash thing astatine all,” she says.

The young mates had moved to the Polish metropolis of Kraków 2 and a fractional weeks earlier, fleeing the Ukrainian metropolis of Lviv wherever they had settled aft escaping governmental unit and repression successful Belarus. “I didn’t privation to permission Ukraine,” Marina explains. “It was a fantastic place, I mislaid my location and I recovered a caller home, and I mislaid that too.”

Later that day, Marina and Alexey joined the anti-war protestation extracurricular the Russian Consulate successful Kraków. “When I saw however galore radical came and that they were outraged arsenic well, it made maine consciousness a spot better,” she says.

Although the bulk of the protesters were Polish and Ukrainian, Marina spotted rather a fewer Belarusians, wrapped successful the white-red-white flags of the Belarusian opposition, successful the crowd.

A photograph  of a ample  radical  of radical   astatine  a rally holding Belarus flags and signs.Demonstrators enactment successful an anti-Lukashenko rally connected August 18, 2020, successful Minsk, Belarus [Photo by Misha Friedman/Getty Images]

When Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko won a sixth word successful bureau successful an predetermination wide regarded arsenic rigged successful August 2020, a convulsive crackdown connected peaceful protesters ensued. As a result, tens of thousands of Belarusians – seeking refuge from an unprecedented run of wide arrests and state-sponsored unit – fled to adjacent countries, including Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, Poland and Russia. Ukraine besides became a communal refuge for Belarusians successful exile.

But erstwhile Russia launched its penetration of Ukraine, galore of those who had recovered a caller location successful this neighbouring state were displaced erstwhile again and, arsenic the Lukashenko authorities became Putin’s fig 1 ally, they sprang into action.

‘My bosom was bursting’

Forty hours aft Russia invaded Ukraine, Marina stood extracurricular the bid presumption successful Przemyśl, Poland, conscionable 14km (8.7 miles) from the Ukrainian border. She was waiting for her person Dina, 34, different Belarusian dissident who had been surviving successful Ukraine, to walk done customs.

Practically overnight, Przemyśl, 1 of the oldest cities successful southeastern Poland, became a constituent of refuge for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who arrived by autobus and bid with their hurriedly packed bags.

“My bosom was bursting into pieces,” Marina says, recalling however it was unbearable to overhear snippets of conversations revealing lives ripped isolated by the war.

A photograph  of radical   walking with suitcases and bags with 3  radical   successful  focus, a kid  connected  the left, a pistillate   successful  the mediate  holding a babe  and a pistillate   connected  the right.People, chiefly women and children, get astatine Przemysl bid presumption successful Poland aft fleeing Ukraine connected March 21, 2022 [Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]

Marina is each excessively acquainted with the symptom of leaving one’s location and household behind. After taking portion successful the pro-democracy question successful Belarus, during and aft the August 2020 election, Marina was arrested doubly and threatened by the Belarusian KGB. In detention, she was beaten and denied nutrient and h2o for days.

When she was released successful August 2021, she fled to Ukraine with her husband, leaving her aged parent behind. “We miss each different and we recognize there’s a anticipation I volition ne'er spot her again,” Marina says.

After Dina passed done customs, Marina took her location to get immoderate rest. In the pursuing days, arsenic the warfare intensified, and more than 3 million Ukrainians hurried to flight the Russian bombs and artillery fire, Marina joined the excavation of volunteers, translating, sorting humanitarian aid, and coordinating refugees astatine the Przemyśl and Kraków bid stations. As she talked to radical and looked astatine their exhausted faces she couldn’t shingle disconnected the feeling it could person been her successful their place.

“I’m trying to assistance wherever I can,” Marina says.

She is not the lone one. Several non-profit organisations operated by the Belarusian diaspora are providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

Seen arsenic the ‘aggressors’

When the penetration started, the Lithuania-based non-profit organisation Belarus Solidarity Foundation (BySol), which was founded successful 2020 to assistance those fleeing persecution successful Belarus, focused specifically connected helping evacuate Belarusian governmental refugees from Ukraine.

“They were precise vulnerable,” says Andrej Stryzhak, the caput of the organisation. “The Russian onslaught was coming from Belarus and abruptly they [Belarusians] were seen [by Ukrainians] arsenic the aggressors.”

A 37-year-old Belarusian quality rights activist, Stryzhak co-founded BySol unneurotic with 2 IT entrepreneurs and activists from Belarus aft helium fled the state successful July 2020. Stryzhak says helium was arrested aggregate times successful Belarus aft launching a crowdfunding inaugural aimed astatine distributing PPE and aesculapian instrumentality to hospitals during the COVID crisis. Lukashenko had referred to the pandemic arsenic a “psychosis” and Stryzhak feels helium was targeted due to the fact that his inaugural exposed the government’s mishandling of the crisis.

After the Russian penetration of Ukraine, the Foundation rapidly broadened its operations, launching a crowdfunding run which has truthful acold raised implicit 65,000 euros ($72,000) to nonstop humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. The efforts are not lone humanitarian. The organisation besides launched a Telegram transmission to supply accusation for those who privation to permission Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and a run to rise funds for Belarusian volunteers who are joining the Ukrainian army.

‘Ukraine has fixed maine a caller home’

According to Hanna Liubakova, a Belarusian writer and chap astatine the Atlantic Council, an American deliberation tank, astatine slightest respective 100 Belarusians person joined the Ukrainian Army and Territorial Defense Forces successful Ukraine, either forming their ain battalions oregon warring alongside Ukrainians successful Kyiv, Odesa, Lviv, and elsewhere.

Gerard, a 35-year-old Belarusian who asked not to springiness his existent sanction successful bid to support his household backmost successful Belarus, is present getting acceptable to support Kyiv arsenic a worker successful the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion formed by Belarusian volunteers successful Ukraine.

A photograph  of 9  radical   holding hands and walking successful  the mediate  of the thoroughfare  with a Belarusian flag.When Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, claimed to person won a landslide triumph successful the August 2020 statesmanlike predetermination peaceful protests broke retired crossed the state [Photo by Misha Friedman/Getty Images]

Originally from Minsk, Gerard near Belarus successful the aftermath of the wide arrests successful August 2020, and lived successful Irpin’, not acold from Kyiv, earlier the war.

“Lukashenko’s authorities took everything from me,” says Gerard, explaining however helium was persecuted and arrested successful Belarus. “Ukraine has fixed maine a caller home, a caller job, and a truly bully life.”

Gerard is presently undergoing subject grooming successful the battalion alongside different volunteers. Although disquieted astir what is to come, helium is resolute successful his determination to combat for Ukraine. “I person to support what is mine,” helium says.

Cyberattacks

Inside Belarus, a radical of hackers who telephone themselves Cyberpartisans has taken work for cyberattacks aimed astatine sabotaging Belarus’ engagement successful the war.

In January, aft Russia began moving troops into Belarus and arsenic the penetration of Ukraine was looming, the radical claimed to person hacked the Belarusian railway strategy successful an effort to dilatory down the deployment of Russian troops successful the state and get the merchandise of Belarusian governmental prisoners.

A period later, 2 days aft Moscow invaded Ukraine, the hacking squad said they had deed Belarus’ bid web again, bringing down the online ticketing website and perchance compromising the switching and routing systems. Once again, they said their extremity was to hold the beforehand of Russian troops.

“Many [Belarusians] consciousness a consciousness of disconnect, galore person household determination [in Ukraine], they comprehend Ukrainians arsenic their brothers and sisters,” says Liubakova. “They privation to support Ukraine.”

‘The weaker Putin is, the weaker Lukashenko is’

The result of this penetration could besides person consequences for Belarus. A Russian decision successful Ukraine could endanger the Belarusian authorities arsenic Lukashenko has go progressively babelike connected Moscow successful the past twelvemonth and a half.

As the US and EU imposed a bid of sanctions connected the Belarusian authorities pursuing the convulsive crackdown connected civilians successful August 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in, offering Lukashenko funds and information forces.

But Putin’s assistance did not travel cheap. Lukashenko allowed Moscow to deploy thousands of troops to Belarus, utilizing the state arsenic a springboard for the penetration of Ukraine.

“The weaker Putin is, the weaker Lukashenko is,” Liubakova explains.

A photograph  of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shaking hands.Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko airs for a photograph during a gathering successful St. Petersburg, Russia successful July 2021 [Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]

On the different hand, the writer believes a prolonged concern could besides fortify Russia’s power implicit Belarus. “It could pb to [the] further beingness of Russia successful Belarus and to the nonaccomplishment of our independence,” she says.

Belarus represents a strategical plus for Putin’s ambitions, arsenic it borders Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, 3 countries that are present NATO members but utilized to beryllium nether the Soviet sphere of power – Lithuania and Latvia were portion of the Soviet bloc portion Poland was a outer state.

“We already spot signs of subject concern successful our country,” Liubakova continues. If Ukraine falls, Russian troops could stay successful Belarus indefinitely. “They mightiness enactment and instrumentality afloat power of the subject and the Kremlin could adjacent found administrative power implicit Belarus,” she says.

‘I’m acrophobic of speaking Russian successful the streets’

While Lukashenko has denied that helium plans to nonstop Belarusian troops to the beforehand line, Belarus is among the fewer nations – unneurotic with North Korea, Eritrea and Syria – that voted against the UN solution condemning the invasion.

“Ukrainians volition present deliberation we’re atrocious people,” says Marina, voicing a fearfulness shared by galore Belarusians. Since the invasion, anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian sentiments person been brewing successful immoderate countries and immoderate Belarusians accidental they person been denied entranceway to bars and shops due to the fact that of their nationality.

“I was precise affirmative erstwhile I came here, past this warfare started and it each has changed,” says a Belarusian who took portion successful the 2020 protests and precocious fled to Georgia. Fearing retaliation from the Belarusian regime, she asked not to springiness her name. “I’m acrophobic of speaking Russian successful the streets, I mostly enactment inside.” She says she was precocious denied a country connected Airbnb erstwhile the proprietor wrote that helium does not judge Russians oregon Belarusians.

When confronted with this anti-Belarusian sentiment, it tin often beryllium hard to explicate the quality betwixt the presumption of the Belarusian authorities and the people. But 1 Belarusian who asked to enactment anonymous for fearfulness of retaliation, explains: “If we’re here, it’s due to the fact that we fled our regime.”

“We person to separate betwixt the radical and the regime,” says Liubakova. “There is simply a wide knowing among Belarusians that we cannot combat against Ukrainians, it’s a neighbouring country, radical bash not privation this war.”

‘We are successful the aforesaid boat’

On February 27 – the aforesaid time a referendum was held successful Belarus that approved law reforms allowing Lukashenko to enactment successful powerfulness until 2035, granting him immunity from prosecution erstwhile helium leaves bureau and permitting the state to big atomic weapons – much than 800 Belarusians were arrested portion protesting against the warfare successful Ukraine. These protests were a hopeless enactment of defiance. In the past twelvemonth and a half, the authorities has arrested much than 35,000 Belarusians successful an effort to suppress the country’s pro-democracy movement. Thousands person been brutally beaten and tortured.

A photograph  of a pistillate   walking down   a thoroughfare  holding the Belarus emblem  successful  1  hand.Anti-government protesters connected August 23, 2020 successful Minsk, Belarus [Photo by Misha Friedman/Getty Images]

Since those fleeing person utilized antithetic types of visas and person antithetic statuses successful the countries they person fled to, it is not imaginable to cognize the nonstop fig of Belarusians who person left. But the systematic quality of the forced departures has led a web of quality rights lawyers and organisations to taxable a lawsuit against the Lukashenko authorities to the International Criminal Court (ICC), for the crimes against humanity of forced deportation and persecution.

Marina says that immoderate days she struggles to stitchery the spot to work the quality oregon permission her apartment. But she knows she must. “If I springiness successful to despair, I volition beryllium similar that wounded soldier, who is incapable to bash anything,” she says.

“So I volition spell to that unpaid centre and I volition benignant done the humanitarian aid, trying not to marque mistakes, adjacent though Belarusians are often told to articulation ‘the Russian warship’, [a notation to the Ukrainian borderline guards connected Snake Island who told a Russian warship to ‘go f**k themselves’]. It hurts, but I person travel to a decision that we are successful the aforesaid boat, and we person 1 enemy.”

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists and Journalismfund.eu.

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