Performers from the Belarus Free Theater who were smuggled out of their home country to Ukraine in October last year came to London in February to perform their critically acclaimed play Dogs of Europe, which sold at the Barbican. Eight days into their show, war in Eastern Europe has broken out, meaning there is “no more home” for the 16 performers.
The group had hoped to establish a base in Poland. However, with the majority of Ukrainian refugees going there, they do not want to “take their place”.
Natalia Kaliada, the founder of Belarus Free Theatre, pleads for refugee status and for their visas to be extended from the UK until then, arguing that they ‘will be arrested and go to jail’ if they return to Belarus .
She said: “Ukraine has become a second home – now Russia has war against our family and friends in Ukraine.
“And Poland hosts 1.6 million Ukrainian refugees.
“But there is no place for the company to be housed there, because these places are needed for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.
“And we can’t take their place. We have to stay here. We want refugee status.”
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Members of the Belarus Free Theater are currently staying with friends of Ms Kaliada and her partner, who have been political refugees in the British capital for more than 10 years.
President Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Vladimir Putin and Moscow used Belarusian territory as a stage for its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
When Russia’s plans began to take shape nearly a month ago, Minsk said it “respected and understood” the country’s decisions.
Lukashenko, who held on to power after an election widely condemned as rigged in his favor and in which he insists he won 80% of the vote, on Saturday once again confirmed his close relationship with Putin.
The 67-year-old authoritarian leader said the Russian president was “in better shape than ever”.
In an interview with Japanese TV channel TBS, he said, “He and I didn’t just meet as heads of state, we’re on good terms.”
Footage shared by state news agency BelTA shows him saying, “I am absolutely aware of all of his details, as far as possible, both state and personal.”
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Ms Kaliada, denouncing the Belarusian regime, said the authorities “started going after the relatives of our ensemble members” the summer after the country’s elections.
She told The Telegraph: ‘It was absolutely clear at the time that they needed to be removed, so we started working on the company-wide emergency exits.’
Highlighting the difficulties faced by the actors, with stories of beatings, harassment and intimidation, Ms Kaliada said: “The UK government should grant the same humanitarian visas that the Polish and German governments grant to Belarusian dissidents.
“He shouldn’t send Belarusians back to Belarus to get UK visas – they need to be released in the UK. Because if people go to Belarus, that means one thing – they’ll go to jail.”
She added: “We are asking for a house where we can perform every day, where we can educate Belarusians, Ukrainians, those who have escaped dictatorship and war.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a long tradition of protecting those in need, including those fleeing political persecution.
“Immigration advice is readily available for those wishing to inquire about their status in the UK.”
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This notice was published: 2022-03-19 15:00:09