The grotesque situation of Staniouta, the Belarusian rival exiled in France

We meet him at the gymnasium of Rueil-Malmaison (Hauts-de-Seine), where he teaches rhythmic gymnastics, a sport that has made him a star in his country. Melitina Staniouta retired in 2016 and finished 5th at the Rio Olympics, but first and foremost she remains the granddaughter of the great Soviet actress who won 14 world medals (5 silver, 9 bronze) for her native Belarus from 2009-2015.

And it was unexpected to find him at this club in the Paris area, explaining the basics to very young gymnasts, who obviously wouldn’t know what the limitations of the top level were. But the situation of the young woman is a terrible paradox. He was forced to leave his country because he dared to speak out against the power in place, he was forced to flee Ukraine just before the Russian invasion with the support of his neighbor Belarus. He was forced to survive in France because our administration is late in issuing documents and faces international sanctions against Minsk. A Kafkaesque situation as absurd as it is infuriating.

“I have to share the 21st century violence, these horrific videos and what’s happening in this small country in the center of Europe.”

“Sports is a school that teaches you to accept mistakes in order to correct them. So what did I do wrong? » Melitina Staniouta is surprised. Disappointed. And follow the thread of his history. His experience, speaking five languages ​​opened doors for him. Since 2016, he has held rotating MasterClasses around the world and a television show dedicated to everything related to outstanding athletes. “I wanted to highlight everything that contributed to the performancehe says. Coaches, physical therapists, psychologists, and people in the shadows like the concierge of our gymnasium, who might offer me an apple from his garden just to make me smile. »

If he admits that his political conscience was half-baked long ago, he suddenly woke up in 2020 on the eve of the fraudulent and controversial re-election of Alexander Lukashenko. “If I wasn’t interested in my country, I would probably close my eyes. But I can’t, I won’the later claimed. I have to share the 21st century violence, these horrific videos and what happened in this small country in the heart of Europe. »

The repression of the authorities against these tens of thousands of Belarusians who took to the streets of Minsk at that time was absolutely terrible, even deadly. Great athletes are brought to witness, tennis player and former world number 1 Victoria Azarenka speaks “heartbreak” but refuses to say more. Other, less silent voices are rising, with more than 400 athletes signing an open letter calling for the election to be invalidated.

Melitina Staniouta turns her Instagram account into a true chronicle of police violence against civilians. “My boss saw it and fired me. I knew what I was risking by writing such comments in Belarus. But I do not regret anything, even if my parents are punished, I will not change my decision: they lost their jobs because of me. »

Of course, he first tried to find a job in Minsk. “They asked me why I didn’t open a school. But this is impossible. Business is not welcome in Belarus, where almost everything is controlled by the government. There are no clubs. » Therefore, Melitina Staniouta decides to leave the country. She goes into exile in Kiev, where she has friends, where she is known enough to start a collaboration in the middle of the gym, but also with magazines as a model.

“I could not return to Belarus, I could be arrested and killed there. I booked a hotel in Barcelona until March 1st and left three days before the Russians invaded.”

“After 2020, the Belarusian diaspora expanded to Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania. We used to say that finally there are more Belarusians in Kyiv than in Minsk.”, she smiled sadly. Because in February, when war was in the air, Ukrainians still celebrated it only in jest, friends who wanted to believe that this extreme would last through the threatening summer advised him to flee. “I could not return to Belarus, I could be arrested and killed there. I booked a hotel in Barcelona until March 1st and left three days before the Russians invaded.”Melitina Staniouta says.

The problem is that his money runs out quickly and his credit card is blocked. Due to international financial sanctions targeting citizens of Russia and Belarus, he cannot access his accounts. “It is a frustrating and desperate situation as I have a Belarusian passport. Everyone judges me by this passport, not by what I am, what I think, what I do.”, angered the young woman. He decides to write a long message on social networks to explain his situation and find a job. He receives about sixty offers from Australia, the United States and all over Europe. But then there is an administrative question, his tourist visa expires after 90 days.

“In Spain, where rhythmic gymnastics is very popular, I was able to tell my story to the media and two lawyers contacted me to help me for free. I was told that I could claim refugee status. But this requirement takes time, sometimes more than a year, and in the meantime one is not allowed to work for at least six months. To be honest, it seems silly to me, but that’s the law.”, Melitina receives Staniouta. Another option is explained to him, this “talent passport” is available in the USA, Great Britain and… France. A multi-year residence permit valid for four years and renewable, especially for artists or highly qualified persons.

Still a dangerous situation

“I wrote a long letter to the French embassy in Spain to explain who I am, what I’ve been through and my desire to get this talent passport. At first they told me that I have to go back to Belarus, go to the French embassy there, I can’t do that. I insisted, and they told me that yes, I fell into the category of “exceptional” people. This made me happy because I wanted to find a legitimate opportunity. So I was given a three-month temporary visa, time to apply for a residence permit at the prefecture. What I did when I arrived in Nanterre at the end of March. I gave the documents, all the diplomas… But I’m still waiting. For seven months I have had this pink paper, a temporary residence permit that proves that this process has started. And I can work. But that’s all. »

Hosted by a club official, Melitina Staniouta clashes with the administration. He worries about the progress of his file, which is being systematically rejected by the Prefecture. “They tell me to wait for SMS”, he despairs. To make matters worse, he was driving through Paris looking for a bank that would accept his file because he needs to open an account to collect his salary. “But I don’t have the right passport, nor the right residence permit,” he notes, exasperated. I only have cash, I can’t rent an apartment. I still have money, an apartment, a car… But in Belarus. I feel very disappointed. I have never cried in my life, because an athlete does not cry. But there… I am not asking for anything, just to be able to work and live decently. »

“The prefecture asks me not to request them often, but it is about my life. And I see no light at the end of the tunnel. »

Proud, Melitina Staniouta is determined to control herself and find her own solutions. But he measures the infernal tools that harm him on a daily basis. “By choosing Talent Passport, I thought I was speeding things up, but I was probably wrong. he speaks bitterly. I feel like I’m wasting my time. The prefecture asks me not to request them often, but it is about my life. And I see no light at the end of the tunnel. »

He hesitates for a moment and smiles sadly: “The conditions in Rio were very bad, we had cockroaches, giant Brazilian cockroaches, in our windowless rooms. A real nightmare. I promised myself that I would do everything to never go through this again, to always have a choice. Six years later… I’m taking care of myself so I don’t get sick because I don’t have social security. I’m not complaining, I’m adapting, I’ve learned French, I’m doing my best for the club that welcomes me… But I don’t see any prospects. »

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