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We start a series of articles about life in exile. Iva is one of those who left Belarus after the 2020 presidential election. She now lives in Poznan.

Iva, 22 years old

We left Belarus in January 2021, after the protests, when we realized that it was dangerous to stay here. We decided not to wait for them to come after us.

In Poland, I studied tourism at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. It was not difficult for me, it was an interesting direction. But I just couldn’t deal with what was going on in the world, what was going on in my life. So everything piled up, came in one moment, that I just couldn’t stand it, because immigration was a very difficult process for me. At one point it was so bad that I couldn’t even study. I decided to drop everything.

I look back on my six months of living in Poznan and I honestly don’t remember at all, it was a whole day where I just didn’t want to leave the house, didn’t want to do anything. Mostly I just lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. And I was lucky that I had Denis (Iva’s husband) and a friend that I could talk to at home. And it was good at the same time, but on the other hand, I got very attached to these two people and I didn’t expand my circle anymore, I didn’t look for more friends. I didn’t want to integrate, I didn’t want anything at all. I went to Polish language courses, but when we left the house, I didn’t want to speak it. There was a kind of psychological block.

For a long time it was difficult for me just to think about going to work. And when I got a job in a hotel, I had a choice: to be a waitress in the lobby or to check rooms. I was so reluctant to speak Polish that I decided to clean the rooms so I would have less contact with people.

Poznan, photo “not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

When war broke out in Ukraine, it hit me hard because I have friends there. I am from a town near the border with Ukraine and Russia. It got so bad that I went to my university to consult a psychologist. He said he couldn’t help me and referred me to a psychiatrist.

The university paid for 5 visits to the psychiatrist and 5 conversations with the psychologist.

I think I drove myself to this state because I didn’t want to leave, but I left anyway. I had a sense of betrayal of myself, to say the least. So I left, I gave up, I ran away, I’d rather be in prison than here. They kill people there and I sit here and I feel good. I blamed myself for being here, I blamed my husband for moving out. It wasn’t over until I worked on it. I realized it was a mistake not to seek help straight away. If I had started working on it sooner, things might have turned out differently.

The darkest time was when my husband’s grandfather died. I could see how hurt he was that we couldn’t visit his grave and that he couldn’t say goodbye. Those were the hardest days when it really hit me hard that we were not at home. I thought about my family too, my grandmother, and others. I didn’t know how to help my husband, and I didn’t know what would happen to me if I were in his place.

There were thoughts of going back to Belarus. I am not quite sure that the way back is closed for me. But I chose what was more important to me, and it was always my husband. Now we are separated and my first thought was that maybe I should go home to my mom after all. But now I don’t know what to do there. I haven’t finished my education there, I don’t have a job there either. My friends and I have parted and now there are no people close to me in Belarus, half of them have left.

I liked the attitude of the university to mental problems, they helped me with what I was going through, and it wasn’t like in Belarusian universities, like, “My God, what were you thinking, what depression? There are kids starving in Africa.”. They went out of their way to help me, they drew up a sort of individualized lesson plan. I could ask the teachers to reschedule my exams, ask for more time in the exam, or break up a large amount of material into several parts. Mental health is given due attention here.

I feel much better now, but I don’t think I have completed my process of emigration, of integration into society. I still feel like an outsider, despite the fact that I have friends and people who help me. For example, my supervisors. At the same time, I consider them my family and I know that I can always turn to them for help. And even if I am able to return to my motherland, I will always come back and consider this place my second home.