“We survive only thanks to berry-picking. But only the boldest ones cross the border”.
Maria Petrovna from the border village of Drazdyn told the European Radio for Belarus that almost everyone in her village was caught by the Belarusian border guards and sent to Pinsk, the nearest largest city in Belarus. After filing a report, Belarus officials would routinely send them back through the nearest crossing point, located 50 km off Drazdyn. This punishment is even more dreadful than a fine for the Ukrainian peasants.
The Border Control Committee of Belarus told the European Radio for Belarus that Ukrainians target the forests which used to be the territory of a military firing ground. Those woods are rich in berries and mushrooms.
“Those areas are indeed full of various berries and mushrooms. People make good money. But they pick them illegally on the Belarusian territory”.
Men from Drazdyn make their raids into Belarus and stay there for several days, spending nights in a forest. Usually, they can bring back several buckets of berries, 12 kg each. They can later sell their harvest at approximately $2 per kilo.
The Border Control Committee also told the European Radio for Belarus that the story dates back to the Soviet times when villages were resettled in order to clear space for the military ground. People are used to gather berries there. Nevertheless, Ukrainian trespassers are almost immediately sent back across the border in the presence of Ukrainian border guards.
Local residents say that the Belarusian border guards started detaining berry-pickers in 1995 after some peasants sawed down a border watch-tower and sold it as a metal scrap. Villagers say that it would be better if Belarus could introduce a special permit.
“The border lies just 1km off our village. It would be good if they gave us some passes. I would then go and pay for a one-day patent in order to pick berries,” Maria Petrovna says.
The border guards simply do their job, waiting for a special agreement between Belarus and Ukraine.