Posted: 27.12.2023 17:50:00

Belarus feels like home

The number of guests from border countries is growing in health resorts in Belarus 

Citizens of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland coming to our country for vacation or treatment greeted Aleksandr Lukashenko’s decision to extend visa-free travel for another year with enthusiasm. Of course, they were worried whether Belarus would remain a territory of free entry, because recently (despite the artificial obstacles built by the ‘other side’) foreign guests have become accustomed to being greeted here, on Belarusian land, with brotherly warmth. That’s why they come here with joy. So, if 70 citizens from the Baltic countries rested in the sanatoriums of the Vitebsk Region in 2021, then in the past there were already about 1000. And this year there were more than 1500 people!

They knew: Lukashenko won’t forget

…Despite the fact that it’s not New Year’s rain outside, there are whole snowdrifts here, in the Lettsy sanatorium, under the thick crowns of pine trees. It’s as if winter is reliably holding its position to the delight of numerous vacationers. Daugavpils resident Olga Staikova also admires the New Year’s nature. She says that while planning her fifth trip to the Vitebsk Region, she tried to track Belarusian news on the Internet, but it didn’t always work. And she confesses, 
“Honestly, in my heart I was sure: Batka would not forget about us. Yes, yes, we also call your President ‘Batka’. But it was difficult to predict how the ‘near-political’ situation would turn out. My friends came here in November and were completely shocked when Latvian banks, without warning, suddenly stopped servicing their cards in your country: you can’t pay for procedures or buy gifts.”
Riga resident Antonina Streltsova has her own story: “I came for 12 days. If I had known that the visa-free regime would be extended, I would definitely have celebrated the New Year here... But I was haunted by a feeling of anxiety: they would suddenly refuse me, and then there would be problems with going back. So, I looked at the Belarusian news: hurray, everything remains the same! When I come, I’ll tell my family and friends — we don’t have Russian-language TV channels, people are in the dark. I know that many expected such a decision from the President of Belarus...” the guest shares her experience. 
Antonina Dmitrievna is a chiropractor, so she can appreciate the professional level of Belarusian doctors. She has already visited many of our sanatoriums: Lesnoye, Borovoye, Priozerny, Naroch... She claims that everything is of high quality, and the price is cheap. For example, a 12-day tour here, to Lettsy, cost only €355. That’s why she recommends Belarusian health resorts to her patients. You won’t be able to relax anywhere in Latvia for this price. However, there are very few sanatoriums left there: almost all of them built during the USSR are closed.
“I pay a lot of attention to health. This is in order to stay in service and continue my travels through the mountains. Yes, this is my hobby... This year I climbed Kazbek, a little earlier I conquered Kilimanjaro...” the Latvian resident explains. 
This time in Vitebsk, Antonina Streltsova was met by matchmakers. They also helped with paying for the tour — it’s not easy to do this from Latvia. How did matchmakers end up in Belarus? We also once came to the sanatorium to relax. And a month and a half ago, having been convinced more than once of the hospitality and good nature of the local residents, we decided to move here for good. They sold an apartment and a house in Latvia and are planning to build a cottage in Vitebsk. Everyone is happy.
“What Belarusian goods will you take home?” I ask.
“Unfortunately, we are prohibited from importing your products, so our choice is limited. I usually take medications: cheap and very effective, like mucosate. But only three packages of several types are allowed through. But as soon as the matchmakers met me on Belarusian land, I immediately ordered: bring me some sausage! I love your milk and meat products. While I’m here, I’ll eat myself off,” Antonina laments.

From vacation to permanent residence

The director of the sanatorium, Aleksei Moiseichenko, joins the conversation,
 “By the way, the holiday at Lettsy also influenced the change in the fate of another family — the Schneiders. Two years ago they stayed with us and eventually moved to the Senno District. They got a job and are grateful that this is where their fruitful acquaintance with Belarus began.”
In general, the manager notes, the sanatorium has many regular clients from the Baltic countries. They come year after year, bringing their friends. And they also become guests for a long time.
The manager’s story is continued by cosmetologist Yelena Tarasova: she has many ‘fans’ in Latvia. In advance, they discuss online the programme for a future stay at the health resort, a list of cosmetic procedures: spa massages, skin cleansing, body wraps...
“Foreigners are happy to visit the beauty parlors of the sanatorium. After all, health and beauty are inseparable things. And it’s cheap, if you take it by European standards,” the specialist explains.
Aleksei Moiseichenko

Aleksei Moiseichenko gives figures: 
Since the beginning of this year alone, almost 5,000 foreigners have rested at the health resort — half of the total number of guests. Latvians also occupy a significant share.
“We are now testing new methods of working with citizens of this country. Together with foreign travel companies we organise so-called familiarisation tours. People come for two days, the necessary procedures have already been booked for them, and, if desired, excursion programmes and shopping tours. True, it’s not always possible to do everything according to plan, there are also force majeure…” Aleksei Moiseichenko shares the details.
What problems might arise? Foreigners on vacation say: the last study tour almost failed due to the fault of the Latvian side. The bus that was going to the sanatorium was held at the border for about 12 hours! As if to discourage Latvians from using the services of Belarusian health resorts next time. Latvian border guards only took about three hours to ask the bus driver for an explanation...
“For our part, we tried to alleviate the situation as much as possible. The staff was understanding and sympathetic. The procedures were released until 21:00 so that the Latvians received everything they wanted. But I would really like, of course, that such nuances would not arise in the future,” the head of the sanatorium explains.

We’ll come again!

Riga resident Tatiana Puchkova is happy with everything in Letsy. She arrived on vacation with her husband. It was their first time in Belarus, but the couple had already appreciated the delights of Belarusian nature and the hospitality of doctors and nurses, “We took bus tickets from Riga to Vitebsk and are very grateful to the managers of the sanatorium for their advice and online support. They explained everything to us, told us everything. They reassured me that the medical card could be issued on the spot. Then together we decided how to get there, how much money would be needed for taxi fare. Thanks to them for this!”
A complete list of necessary procedures, good living conditions — and these guests will also definitely return to Belarusian land again. Like all Latvians who relax in sanatoriums in the border Vitebsk Region. By the way, today about 30 more Latvian citizens are undergoing a health improvement course at the Lepel military sanatorium, and since the beginning of the year about 850 people have already been here.

To the point

The news about the extension of the visa-free regime for entry into Belarus was also enthusiastically received by regular guests of the Verkhnedvinsk Region — Latvians and Lithuanians get here through the international automobile checkpoint Grigorovshchina. Many of them regularly visit the territory of Belarus to purchase medicines. Yulia Gribanova, pharmacist at the Verkhnedvinsk Central Pharmacy No. 67 of the Pharmacy Unitary Enterprise, said that painkillers and cold medicines, medicines for stomach pain, and cardiovascular medications are in particular demand. Every day, this pharmacy alone serves up to ten foreigners. And in local stores, the Baltic states, taking advantage of the visa-free regime, are actively buying food and other Belarusian goods.

By Yelena Begunova

Photos by Anton Stepanishchev