Stay Safe in Belarus
Belarus has a modest crime rate. Fortunately, crimes against foreigners are uncommon, but criminals have been known to use force if victims fight. Mugging and pickpocketing are common forms of street crime that occur most often near public transit, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lighted locations. Around many places, you should be particularly cautious in metro and bus terminals, where thieves are more likely to assault you.
Avoid going to nightclubs and discothèques since they are run by criminal gangs looking for more money, although street-level organized criminal violence is uncommon and usually does not impact expats.
Cybercrime of various sorts is prevalent in Belarus. Merchandise orders using fake credit cards, identity theft, hacking/blackmail operations, and Nigerian-style advanced fee fraud are all on the rise. If you conduct deal with people or companies in Belarus online, you should exercise great care. Not only is electronic fraud prevalent at ATMs and grocery shops, but attacks against street-side ATMs have resulted in severe injuries.
Expect to be arrested within minutes if you join in a public protest with political banners. The speed with which you leave (24 hours or 24 days) is determined on your connections, social standing, and other factors. Because of the government’s vehement hostility to opposing ideas, Westerners should avoid any political conversations, demonstrations, and so forth.
Belarus remains a highly prejudiced society. In Belarus, gay and lesbian travelers, as well as Jews, suffer severe persecution. If you fall under any of these categories, you should avoid traveling to Belarus in the first place.
Many protests may be recognized by a red and white banner: a white backdrop with a horizontal strip of red running across the center, creating a white/red/white flag. If you see this flag, try to remain as far away from the protest as possible.
As a foreigner, you may be subjected to surveillance; hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be watched, and personal belongings in hotel rooms may be examined. Taking photos of anything that might be regarded as being of military or security importance may cause difficulties with authorities; these locations are not always clearly designated, and the implementation of these prohibitions is up to interpretation.
Potholes, unlighted or badly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians strolling on unlighted roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disrespect for traffic regulations are all hazards. Driving in the winter is particularly hazardous due to ice and snow. Drivers are reminded to be cautious at all times.
Since the days of the Soviet Union, the KGB in Belarus has not altered its name – it is still known as the KGB – and its practices are unlikely to have changed much either.
During 2005, several ethnic Polish journalists and journalists with Polish citizenship had difficulties with the government (ranging from being denied entrance to spending a dozen or so days in jail). If your name sounds Polish, you’d better have solid proof that you’re not a journalist.
Belarus’ police forces are well-trained and competent, although they are severely hampered by an unreformed Soviet-era legal framework, corruption, and politicization of the police and other government agencies. Officers are not unusual in collecting bribes during traffic stops due to poor pay. Because of a lack of resources and/or political will, sophisticated criminal investigations are often inconclusive. Belarusians are notoriously bad drivers.
Stay Healthy in Belarus
Belarus had an outstanding health system in the past, but when the Chernobyl catastrophe occurred, medical treatment seriously harmed the system. As a result, neither contemporary nor readily accessible medical care exists in Belarus. It is worth noting that the system is only available to individuals who speak fluent Russian and Belarussian. Ambulances are ill-equipped and unreliable; waiting times of 30 minutes or more are not uncommon. Medical evacuation to the European Union is the quickest method to get Western-level treatment.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a growing public health issue in Belarus. Before going to Belarus, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated.
In Belarus, a major institution with considerable financing is researching the food chain effect of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe at a nuclear power station on the Ukraine-Belarus border. Food inspectors, in general, examine food not just for bacterial contamination, but also for radiation levels. Except for food obtained from the prohibited areas within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of the Chernobyl plant itself or the second hotspot around the junction of Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian borders, most food is deemed safe.