There’s no doubt about it, the coronavirus pandemic changed the world, affected the lives of billions of people and upended plans of hundreds of foreign citizens stranded in Belarus.
Many of them had no intention of staying indefinitely, they had to renew visas and adjust somehow to new conditions. Others arrived in Belarus on purpose – to wait out quarantines in their countries. How did they settle in here and what do they think about the situation in the country? We invite you to read the stories of four foreign guests below.
Ivana from Montenegro
On 9 March, Ivana flew from Berlin to Minsk. She hoped to stay in Belarus for about a week and then go to Vilnius by train. The coronavirus pandemic and closed borders changed her plans. The 25-year-old has been living with her local friend for two months now.
“I am very grateful to your migration service, which made it possible to stay here and quickly extended the visa. I’m also lucky that I am a freelancer and can work from anywhere in the world,” Ivana says.
The young woman has accepted her extended stay philosophically and even found a silver lining – plenty of free time. She bought a ukulele and learns to play it via YouTube videos. She also hangs out with other foreigners stuck in Belarus. They go to movies, drink coffee and chill out on Zybitskaya street.
According to Ivana, her Minsk photos, full of life and many things happening, arouse jealousy among her parents and fellow countrymen. “With all the curfew situation at home, here in Minsk, one can feel that life continues, besides, people don’t fear coronavirus so much.
I like that a person in your country was given an opportunity to choose: stay at home in self-isolation or move freely if you’re not afraid of the virus. That is, on the one hand, the state treated the situation seriously, recommending people to stay at home, follow the rules and disinfection measures.
And on the other hand, it allows those who are not afraid or not at risk to live normally. Even your football, which everyone jokes about, is being watched in Montenegro. Precisely for the reason of having an opportunity to choose and freedom, they envy me to some extent,” she concludes.
Christian from Brazil
Like many first-time visitors, Christian had little to no idea about Belarus until he accidentally got trapped in here. However, he stays positive and believes whatever happens, it is all for the best.
“I have long dreamed of visiting the post-Soviet countries, so when a volunteer program with work in Moldova came up, I decided to go there, and see Moscow, Minsk and Kyiv on the way,” Christian explains.
On 12 March, he came to Minsk by train and went straight to his dream – to see and explore the post-Soviet capital. Four days later something unexpected happened, Ukraine closed its borders.
However, the 51-year-old didn’t get confused. He has been living in a hostel for two months now. First, Christian sent hundreds of applications to a free housing search service, unfortunately, no one dared to shelter him.
So far, the man has visited a local cat museum, nearby cafes and charmed the hostel management so much they gave him a discount on accommodation in exchange for dancing lessons.
Gilles from France
Gilles is a Frenchman, he works as an engineer in the Paris metro and speaks a little Russian. In March, he flew from Paris to Minsk to wait out the quarantine in his country.
“I left because my apartment is too small, the studio is only 30 square meters. I wouldn’t have made it there for two months. Therefore, I fled to Minsk. I live in a rented apartment on Karl Marx street.
The first weeks were not bad, the Bolshoi Theater worked and I went to see performances. There were almost no spectators during the latest ones, maybe 60 people in a huge hall. Therefore, you could sit wherever I wanted, so I chose a box.”
Gilles’ question of work resolved itself, it turns out that he can work remotely. The 52-year-old chose Minsk as a safe haven for a reason, he had repeatedly visited the city and really enjoyed the post-Soviet atmosphere.
“I also have a woman here,” Gilles says in a Belarusian manner and adds that he will stay in Belarus for at least another month. The only thing he fears is that a 90-day period of stay will end soon and he will have to leave.
Gadi from Lebanon
The guy is a student of the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics (BSUIR). When the pandemic began, he planned to go home, but before he could do so, the borders were closed. Gadi now lives alone in a dorm room, while the university conducts classes remotely.
“I want to fly to Lebanon, there are few coronavirus cases. Here, people are not afraid of it, they just don’t care. At home, one person a day gets sick, and here – 500 of them,” Gadi explains his position in Russian.
The young man says that his parents are very worried and ask him to come back home. At the same time, he doesn’t wear a mask and jokes that a beard protects him against the virus. When being told that some, on the contrary, shave their beards in order not to get infected, he gives the idea another thought.
“Ohhh, I won’t do that, if I shave my beard, I’ll need a passport so that they let me in a club. My beard is my passport,” the Lebanese student laughs.
The funny thing is Ivana, Gilles and Raiko, a Serbian from Luxembourg, know each other well enough. All of them have been eating in Lido restaurant for over a month where they got acquainted.
Explore the topic:
All of them gathered at a bar, later Lebanese Gadi joined them. One thing led to another, and the discussion of the dangers of coronavirus turned into an emotional debate.
“Belarus will never be like Italy, never, because the conditions are different. Italy is crowded, do you understand?” Raiko tells Gadi.
“Belarusians think it’s like a flu, they’re not afraid, they just don’t care,” Gadi insists.
“So what to do now? Introduce a quarantine, as they did in Belgium? In Belgium, where they have very strict quarantine, six thousand people died!” Raiko keeps fighting.
What will you do if there is an outbreak in Belarus, as it is in Belgium?
“There won’t be!” Gilles gets overly excited. “This is all politics. You have freedom here, and rightly so. This is what I came here for.”
“You won’t believe it, but foreigners come here and they feel safe. In Paris, Marseille, one have to be either a hero or have a gun to walk 10 km at night. This place is paradise,” Raiko says decisively.
Recall that after a number of countries closed the borders and imposed travel restrictions both for their citizens and foreigners, Belarus has extended the period of stay for foreign nationals up to 90 days, and if necessary, beyond this period.
As of 25 April, 1,288 foreign nationals applied to the department of citizenship and migration for an extension of their stay in Belarus. Among them are citizens of Ukraine (145 people), Turkmenistan (85), China, the U.S., France, Lithuania, Turkey, Iran, Poland, and Iraq.
The original article was published on 25 April by TUT.BY.