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Emigration

"In Belarus they know - they like to arrest on Thursday morning". Online diary of a pediatrician who ventured into forced emigration to Poland with three children

02.02.2023

Emigration comes in many forms. Sometimes it is a long and desirable goal, which you pursue with joy and conscience. And sometimes - as it happened to the author of this text - it is a dire necessity, unwanted and sudden. Media Loft publishes excerpts from the diary of an emigrant pediatrician from Belarus.

Part 1.

I am a doctor. You know, nothing extraordinary, just an ordinary district paediatrician. You have seen - the kind of doctor who is always swearing in line, because there is an appointment every five minutes, and who has a fever without getting an appointment. I also run around in hats and flats with fogged-up glasses, I forget to take the stethoscope off my neck and I go by bus with it.

Not great, in general, but not a bad doctor, evidence-based medicine, empathy and politeness, the whole deal. I have had enough patient thank-you notes for my three children and all the neighbours' children.

And then I was summoned by the head doctor. Polyclinics are not called to the head doctor to be praised, usually quite the opposite. It's also so pathetic "after you've attended house calls", which means half a day of running up and down the floors with thoughts of "why" and tachycardia. Yeah, that's when it started - the loud heart pounding.

The chief said he was firing me in three days. I want to be fired, I want to be dismissed by mutual agreement. The answer to "what for?" was not provided - that's Belarus, baby.

I could have asked more persistently, but why should I force a person to admit that he has committed a crime, it is just rude. To the political, of course.

I was not a great activist and organizer, I did approximately the same thing that most Belarusians do - rallies, samizdat to the neighbours' mailboxes, letters to political prisoners. I still joined the independent medical trade union, but it was quickly shut down. That was all in 2020, two years ago; now it's just that all the more serious activists have been imprisoned, my turn has come. It's good if the case is limited to dismissal, the Belarusians know how to rejoice in little things - when they only deprived me of my profession, and put me in jail, but only for two years.


Protests in Belarus, 2020
Photo: bbc.com

In the percentage ratio, there are more people convicted in political cases in Belarus now than there were under the young hot-headed Stalin.

Of course, for the non-Belarusians, there is still the question of "for what".

In the reception room my heart was pounding, but in the office it was not. I asked him about the criminal case. He said he knew nothing, my heart skipped a beat. Nobody says anything around here. I signed an "agreement of the parties", the articles for emergency dismissal by the employer were quite depressing.

When I went to sign the bypass a day later, I listened to the stories. The chief accountant said that the previous doctor had disappeared so quickly that he had never signed the bypass. The personnel department said that they yelled at them because of me, "how dare you take on an enemy of the people". The head nurse said that she too would probably be fired soon as the mother of an enemy of the people, her only son. He was a policeman, resigned in 2020, he did not want to leave his land. Former law enforcers get the longest sentences.

I walked away from the administration building at the time, called my friend to tell her the news, she felt a little sorry for me, and I cried. For some reason I felt the most pity for the newborns I ran in to during those half days, the last of them. I'm a paediatrician for a reason, but I love children. My hands are used to babies. Women know this - when you leave the house where your baby is looked after by a loving grandma and dad, your hands are empty. I was rejoicing at the healthy newborns at the station, and suddenly they were taken away from me. All my children from the plot, all my work.

Those who haven't lived in Belarus don't know - here they fire you forever, they deprive you of your profession, you can't enter any state company, you can't even become a nurse, and in Belarus everything is "state".


Protests in Belarus, 2020
Photo:
AP Photo/Sergei Grits / TASS

That is how I stayed unemployed forever. In the evening I pick up my younger child from the kindergarten and the girl from a special school, she is 8 years old with autism and can't speak. The older one is ten, he's independent, he gets home from school on his own. I brought them home, counted my money and my heart - wow.

And then I thought, that's nothing, but what if they put me in jail? And if they come after me, where would the kids go? I thought about it and my heart raced. I called my friend and asked her to call me at lunchtime and in the evening to make sure that I was free and that there was no need to save the children. No, I didn't do anything to imprison me, but in Belarus you don't have to.

I don't know what I hoped for when I went to work in the ambulance every other day - I had to live on something. The ambulance service, despite the known shortage of staff, refused me, recommending that I seek clarification from the regional head of healthcare. But my friend told me that I had been dismissed by another department and that the very best Health Department would not solve anything. I also applied to the emergency room of a nearby hospital - they asked whether I was on the black list - the blackest or the least black. They promised to call me back depending on the shade of the list. They didn't call back. No reply or hello, no written refusal, no characterisation.

In between, I left the house to spend the night somewhere from Wednesday to Thursday night.

In Belarus it is known that  they like to arrest on Thursday morning. We don't get acquittals here; if they come, they'll turn the house upside down and find something, and there's no way to prove that you've never seen a forbidden book before.

When Sidorov Sidorovich in a balaclava is a witness in an online court, the attitude to justice changes somehow.

But we've been living like this for two years now, with varying success. We don't answer unfamiliar numbers to avoid being called a "witness", and freeze to the unexpected ringing of the intercom. And if there is a knock at the door uninvited, it's not just a "heartbeat" but the only place to hide is in the toilet. The usual state of mind.


Protests in Belarus, 2020
Photo:
twitter.com/franakviacorka

But I didn't want to leave. When we went to rallies, we used to shout: "This is our city! We loved this country and were ready to be beaten up, arrested - for the future. We were not ready to kill, but is that a cause for regret?

"But I don't want to win at all costs" - romantic idealists, then we didn't know the price of defeat. Sorry, Ukraine.

To leave was like admitting defeat, surrendering your city. And I continued my pointless and ridiculous job search, hiding on Wednesday and Thursday nights and listening to the pounding of my heart.

Moving, then. Poland, most likely.

To be continued.

By: Maya Tserakulava

Cover photo: from author's personal archive