NAWA Polish National Agency for Academic ExchangeSolidary with Belarus: this is how the world is changing

Solidary with Belarus: this is how the world is changing

In their homeland, they were not only restricted from studying or doing research. They were prosecuted in Belarus for participating in protests or opposition activities. Sometimes the problem could even turn out to be... a cake, eaten together with neighbours, because someone associated it with plotting against the authorities. Now, thanks to scholarships from the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange NAWA, these people have found refuge in Poland. And all this within the framework of the “Solidary with Belarus” initiative.

When, in October and November last year, the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange NAWA organized an online Polish language course for over 500 people from Belarus who were studying or planning to study in Poland and who would need Polish during their education or at work, the limit was exhausted in just a few hours.

‘This clearly demonstrated how much hope Belarusians have for Poland and how much they count on us,’ says dr Grażyna Żebrowska, director of the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange.

Notably, it was only one of the projects prepared for Belarusians who experienced repressions in connection with the protests and demands for a recount of votes in the presidential election. The security forces targeted not only the demonstrators in the streets, but also the academic community, as many of the protesters were students and their lecturers. It was then that, as part of the government initiative called “Solidary with Belarus”, the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange, acting on behalf of the then Ministry of Science and Higher Education (currently the Ministry of Education and Science), launched activities to support students, scientists and teachers from Belarus.


More than 800 young residents of this country on the Dnieper and Dvina Rivers received financial assistance from NAWA during the past academic year, which gave them the opportunity to study at more than 70 Polish HEIs as part of the “Solidary with Students” initiative. The young people received monthly scholarships and a chance to open a new chapter in their lives. The aid depended on the type of studies and amounted to PLN 1,250 in the case of first-degree and uniform Master’s degree studies or PLN 1,500 in the case of second-degree studies. The scholarship holders studying at public HEIs were also exempt from paying tuition fees by the decision of the NAWA director. This group includes Yuri*, who stresses that he was thinking about studying in Poland even before the Belarusian revolution.

‘I have Polish roots and relatives in Poland. I really wanted to study in this country, because for us it is synonymous with Western Europe, a colourful country compared to Belarus,’ explains the student of economics studying in Warsaw. ‘And the studies here are certainly satisfactory. You can see that everyone has zeal to do things here, students and teachers alike. Everyone has the feeling that studying makes sense, that it will bring about change in life,’ adds Yuri.

Tatiana, who studies in Warsaw, felt free in the Polish capital for the first time.

‘I was surprised by the number of foreign students. There is plenty of human energy here. At university, you are absolutely free to discuss things or argue in class. It made a great impression on me, because after the protests in Minsk everyone learned that sometimes you have to hide your views and keep a low profile. This was the main reason why I left, anyway. I had never considered before that I might want to leave. Now I wonder if I want to go back there at all. Even though my Polish is not perfect, I can understand everything. What is more, Poles understand me,’ she explains.

All this because, as she says, she saw a different life. She was surprised by the resourcefulness of Polish students, their ability to reconcile work, studies and sometimes family life.

‘There is no such stagnation here as at Belarusian universities. You really want to live your life here,’ Tatiana points out.

Tatiana adds that it is not just about the university, but mostly about people. And she recalls a situation from last winter when, for various reasons, she could not go to her family home. The Poles opened their doors to her: she spent Christmas with a friend from university at the Polish seaside.

‘Kasia told me: My mum says that’s why we keep an empty place at the table in the Polish tradition. For the weary wanderer who has nowhere to spend Christmas Eve.’ I broke out crying,’ explains Tatiana.

Last year, more than 800 scholarship holders – selected jointly by NAWA in cooperation with the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland (CRASP) – studied at 73 HEIs in Poland. This academic year, out of 1,821 applicants, another 395 received scholarships and will study at 62 HEIs.

The largest number of people took up their studies at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, the University of Warsaw, the University of Lodz and Warsaw School of Economics. The most popular fields of study among Belarusian scholarship holders are: management, computer science, philology, biotechnology and journalism.


When dr Piotr Rudkouski made the decision to go on a research fellowship to Poland in November 2020, he estimated the risk of being imprisoned as “medium”. He was a member of the Coordination Council, and as director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, a non-state think tank, he initiated a research project on the factors of political transformation in Belarus. The repressive machinery was slow to unleash: the first calls from the Investigative Committee did not begin until the second half of December, and criminal proceedings against him were not initiated until the spring. By then he was already in Poland.

‘Some prominent people stayed in Belarus deliberately. Repression against them was a matter of time. My good friends Andrei Dynko, Andrei Skurko – both with young children. Eduard Palczys, whose wife was pregnant at the time, was detained. Gazeta Wyborcza journalist Andrzej Poczobut, the prominent Polish activist Andżelika Borys – they also decided to stay. I left – with a huge moral debt to those who stayed. I made a decision, I think the right one, but the burden in my heart has always been very heavy,’ explains Rudkouski.

But apart from avoiding repression, the trip to Poland became an opportunity for him to pursue research in his area of interest. He is currently pursuing it at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

‘This is one of the few times in my life when I have been able to receive support for research that I personally find the most interesting. In this case, research on transformation of values in Belarus,’ he adds.

Rudkouski is one of 35 scientists who last year were among those invited to carry out projects under the activity requested from NAWA by MES, the Ministry of Education and Science, ‘Solidary with Belarus – Solidary with Scientists’. In 2020, NAWA in collaboration with CRASP identified 31 HEIs to provide them with hospitality and academic support.

It was a difficult moment for many Belarusian scientists. On the one hand, they had a settled life, family and work, and on the other, the authorities, who looked less and less favourably on some of the lecturers. For Andrzej (now at the University of Szczecin), the main problem and reason for his departure was the negative attitude of public authorities towards his work on internationalization of scientific research and participation in international projects initiated by the European Union and the USA.

‘Obviously, there were doubts. A new language, culture and mindset. The main concerns were about the kids who accompanied me. I had no idea how quickly they would be able to adapt to life in Poland and whether there would be any issues with it,’ says Andrzej.

But no regrets. ‘Here, new opportunities and perspectives to conduct scientific research and implement international projects together with colleagues from Poland and the EU have opened up for me. Thanks to the scholarship programme, which included language courses, our family was able to quickly integrate into Polish society, and today we are optimistic about our future in Poland,’ he explains. ‘The reality has exceeded my expectations. We have integrated into Polish society easily. I have received support at the university and gained new opportunities to grow as a researcher. My wife has also found a job and the children attend Polish school with great interest. In less than a year, our lives have begun to fall into place. I am very grateful to the management and the entire team at the University of Szczecin for the solidarity and the helping hand that they have given our family,’ adds Andrzej.

Elena from the Silesian University of Technology divides her life into “before” and “after’ 2020. “Before” they lived without politics, worked, earned a living, had hobbies and hung out with friends. “After” there was no doubt that this could not go on like this, that something had to change. So, she left everything in Minsk, taking only her closest family with her.

‘At that time – that is, autumn-winter 2020 – in Belarus, at my university, where I had worked for almost 20 years, there was no possibility to stay anymore. I was punished by being deprived of an award and reprimanded, I was humiliated for my political views, for not being able to keep quiet about what was going on. I enjoy my job, lecturing to students, but because of the relationship with government administration I had to take this step. Of course, the opportunity to participate in the ‘Solidary with Scientists’ programme gave me the chance to continue my scientific work. I am very grateful for that,’ explains Elena, who adds that she was surprised how modern the equipment is at Polish HEIs.

Dr hab. Andrei Macuk, now at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences, had to leave the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in 2020 as a result of political repression. He was detained twice during 2020. He spent 28 days in custody.

‘The second time, I was detained just for drinking tea with my neighbours in the yard and eating a cake with the image of Pahonia. This was considered a political action, although in March 2020 I published a book with Pahonia on the cover in cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. I no longer felt safe in Belarus, especially because I would have nowhere to work. All the places where I could still do research are state-owned,’ he explains. ‘It was evident that the present Belarusian authorities started to actively interfere in historical research and, in fact, history was being replaced by ideology. I wanted to do science, not ideology,’ he adds.

As an example, he says that a Grade 7 History textbook that he co-authored just went into the trash for political reasons, and another co-author was fired from a public entity.

As underlined by dr hab. Andrei Macuk, in Poland a scientist does not have many duties that do not concern scientific work, there is much less red tape.

‘In Belarus, I was supposed to report all the time where I was and at what time: the archive, the library, a conference or some other place. In general, there is a lot more paperwork in Belarus that I had to handle. A quarterly report had to be submitted on what had been done during those past three months. I do similar research here, but I waste less time on all kinds of paperwork,’ claims dr hab. Andrei Macuk.


The group of more than 30 scientists who carry out projects at Polish HEIs, scientific institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences or research institutes will be joined later this year by other beneficiaries of the programme. In the second edition of the ‘Solidary with Scientists’ initiative more than 40 projects were submitted involving Belarusian scientists who face repression in their home country and are deprived of the possibility to conduct unfettered scientific research.

According to the rules of the programme, each scholar participating this year receives financial support consisting of: the scientist’s salary of PLN 8,500 gross; a one-off mobility allowance of PLN 5,000 (lump sum), paid by the host institution to the scientist’s account, to cover the costs of resettlement and the costs of persons sharing the common household with the scientist; a one-off task allowance for the scientist’s tutor (or tutors), who is a person employed by the inviting institution, of PLN 6,000 gross; a training allowance to finance the costs of educational fees (e.g. a training allowance for financing education costs (e.g. Polish language course, vocational training) – in the maximum amount of PLN 500 for each month of stay, settled on the basis of incurred costs.

The National Centre for Research and Development has also joined NAWA in supporting Belarusian scientists and has announced a special competition for this group of researchers. Thanks to this funding, Belarusian scientists will be able to receive research funds in our country for longer.


In total, more than 1,100 people have received support through NAWA activities. The total budget of the activities was about PLN 14 million in 2020. Yet for some, this assistance proves invaluable and cannot be expressed in money alone.

‘The help offered to us by Poles cannot be expressed in any money. This is how the world is changing,’ Tatiana adds.


*the data of some interviewees have been changed for security reasons

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