'Tarred with the same brush as Russia': Belarusians in Czechia face lengthy separation from their families

The first Belarusian congress focused on challenges faced by Belarusians living in Czechia took place in Prague this weekend.


Written by ČTK Published on 23.10.2022 10:55:00 (updated on 26.10.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Prague Oct 22 (ČTK correspondent) - Belarusian Kryscina Šyjanok, who lives in Prague, last saw her parents in Belarus before 2019 as she cannot return to her homeland due to her activities in the Czech Republic, the opposition activist has told ČTK.

Due to visa restrictions, her family cannot come to the Czech Republic.

The separation of families is one of the problems being addressed by the first congress of Belarusians in the Czech Republic, which began on Saturday morning in Prague.

The congress is organized by most Belarusian associations in the Czech Republic. It is being held under the auspices of the Mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib. 

"Other activists living in the Czech Republic are in the same situation. Due to their activities, they must not go to Belarus because they would probably be jailed," Šyjanok said.

"Some of them know that a criminal prosecution was already started against them. Not to speak about those who are holders of international protection, be it in the form of asylum or additional protection, and they must not travel to Belarus. For them, the time is very difficult,“ said Šyjanok, a representative of Belarus in the ethnic minorities committee of the Prague City Hall and co-founder of the association of Belarusian women in the Czech Republic called Vieršnica.

Belarusians and Russian students in Czechia protest against being labelled as security threat.
Belarusians and Russian students in Czechia protest against being labelled as security threat. Photo: @balitskiy_bogdan@anichkkoo (Facebook)

"They must settle down in a foreign country and be integrated. However, at the same time, they may miss their wife or daughter who may have stayed in Belarus for some reason,“ she said, citing an example of just one of the Belarusians who has come to the Czech Republic within the humanitarian program Medevac.

Šyjanok said that, irrespective of the support from the Czech side, Belarusians "still feel in a number of spheres that they are tarred with the same brush as Russia, which is, as far as the war is concerned, the aggressor."

In the case of Belarus, the role of aggressor played by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime can be separated from the Belarusian nation, she added.

"There is a lack of understanding of Belarus being an occupied state, due to which there should be quite a different approach to the people fleeing it. This is why the people need greater humanitarian aid," Šyjanok said.

In June, the Czech government decided that till the end of March 2023, it would not grant visas and permits for stays to Russians and Belarusians.

The step is to protect the Czech Republic's foreign political interests in connection with the armed conflict in Ukraine, in which Belarus supports Russia, the government decree said.

So far, Belarusians have only managed to negotiate a few exceptions, such as for students with international, European, or Czech fellowships.

However, this doesn't relate to the students of "critical branches of studies."

Restrictions are also encountered by clients of banks or insurance companies who are citizens of Belarus, although they are opponents of its regime.

Right now, it is impossible to send any package to Belarus from the Czech Republic.

"It does not much matter that we cannot send any package to our family because it will be still probably unwrapped by the staff of the Belarusian post office. The real problem is that we cannot send a letter to a Belarusian prisoner in a prison of Lukashenko's regime,“ Šyjanok said.

The situation in the country keeps worsening. The organization Vyasna said there were 1,344 political prisoners in Belarus.

As a representative of the Belarusian minority in the Czech Republic, Šyjanok said it was clear to it from the beginning that "it will not be easy to lift the overall visa ban because the Czech Republic is afraid that Russian agents with Belorussian passports might potentially get to it."

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"However, we have been saying since the start that Belarus is no Russia and that Belarus democratic forces are able to ensure the necessary coordination in the sphere of verification," she added.

Šyjanok said the Belarusians would keep cooperating with Czech authorities in order to negotiate further exceptions for Belarusians such as those enabling the meeting of separated families.

According to official figures, over 8,000 Belarusian citizens are living long-term in this country.

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