26 November 2022, Saturday, 16:34
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Mines, Checkpoints: What Has Changed In Ukraine-Belarus Border Area

Mines, Checkpoints: What Has Changed In Ukraine-Belarus Border Area

A report from Malaryta.

The city of Malaryta in the Brest region, which is home to more than 12 thousand people, is the farthest regional center from the Belarusian capital. But the border with Ukraine is located very close here: along the highway, the distance to it is about 17 kilometers, writes Deutsche Welle.

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However, now the checkpoint in the Malaryta district is closed, as well as the railway line in the direction of the Ukrainian Kovel. It seems that trains and cars will not resume their movement across the border for a very long time to come.

What is happening in the Belarusian-Ukrainian border area?

People in Malaryta admit that the border and transit status had a noticeable impact on the life of their city and nearby villages. “We do not have large enterprises, therefore, for many residents, income opportunities were associated with the border. Some transported people to Ukraine and back, some had roadside cafes, and most were simply engaged in trade: there were enough goods that could be bought to save money or resell profitably,” says local businesswoman Halina.

According to the woman, before the coronavirus pandemic, she usually went shopping at least twice a week, either to the nearest Ukrainian regional center Ratno, or to the border railway station, Zabolottya. And if Belarusians were attracted to the neighboring territory by the possibility of economical shopping, then the residents of the border Ukrainian villages came to Malaryta or Brest also for employment.

Natallia, a teacher from Malaryta, recalls that until quite recently cross-border ties were actively supported on an informal level.

“The neighboring Ukrainian regional center Ratno was twinned with Malaryta, and guests were often met at the local district executive committee, but most of all I remember the joint holidays in the park in the neutral zone,” Natallia notes.

Roadblocks and mines appeared on the border

As the resident of Malaryta, who had recently been involved in border service, explains on condition of anonymity, in 2020, mobile border outposts began to appear in the Ukrainian direction. “One of them was opened at the end of 2021 in the Malaryta district, explaining that it is necessary to fight illegal migration, drug trafficking, and other crimes that affect the situation at the border,” says the source.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the rhetoric of the Belarusian authorities regarding the situation in the border area began to change. At the end of June 2022, Vadzim Dzenisenka, the commander of the special operations forces of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, who visited the Malaryta district, admitted that now not only mobile border outposts were equipped there: checkpoints and even “mine-explosive fences” appeared.

In turn, the Ukrainian side also states that the territory in the Volhynia region, which borders on Belarus, is now mined. Citizens are asked to be careful when visiting forests and driving along roadsides, paying attention to the signs “Danger - mines!”. As the command of the local territorial defense brigade explains, such measures were taken in connection with the continuing threat of invasion from the territory of Belarus.

In Malaryta itself, many people are wary of openly expressing their attitude to the current situation in Ukraine. One of those who were not afraid to do this was a local activist Lyudmila Ramanovich, who at the beginning of March 2022 sent a letter to the website of the Lukashenka administration. The woman voiced her negative attitude towards the war unleashed by Russia in Ukraine, and protested against the possible participation of Belarus in these actions, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country.

Soon, Lyudmila Ramanovich was detained: a search was conducted in her house, and on June 20, the court sentenced the activist to a year and a half in prison on charges of “insulting Lukashenka” (allegedly, the word “usurper” was mentioned in the letter). At the end of July, the Brest Regional Court, having considered the complaint of a resident of Malaryta, upheld the verdict.

The local residents speak mostly favorably about the act of Lyudmila Ramanovich, who is known to many in the city. However, they admit that they are discouraged by the reaction of the authorities.

“Lyudmila is a brave woman, she has been in the opposition for a long time, but punishing a person for their opinion in such a way ... People are scared: after all, it turns out that until recently they spent holidays in the neutral zone in the park together with Ukrainians, and now there are mines on the border, and it is impossible to express discontent,” businesswoman Halina is contemplating.