Anger, disappointment among Lithuanians as Belarusian border checkpoint closure looms - BNS REPORT

  • 2023-08-14
  • BNS/TBT Staff

SUMSKAS - The countdown has begun for Lithuanians traveling to Belarus via the Sumskas border checkpoint as they face the impending closure of this route, which is causing frustration and concern among people.

On past Saturday's sunny morning, numerous vehicles, including those with families on board, were waiting in line at the Sumskas border checkpoint nestled amid picturesque forests.

As Lithuania prepares to shutter this checkpoint during the upcoming week, people willing to travel to Belarus will need to explore alternative border crossing points and will potentially face longer waiting times, especially alongside bus and lorry drivers.

This imminent change not only affects travelers from farther regions but also casts a shadow on the lives of locals residing in proximity to the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. For many of them, their trips abroad often encompassed visits to the duty-free shops on the Belarusian side, sometimes even multiple times a day.

Jadvyga, 73, a resident of Kalveliai, a village situated eight kilometers from the Sumskas border checkpoint, also voices her concern. "They sell this medicine for 1.5 euros there, while it costs 10-12 euros here. As a pensioner, it's a significant difference for me. I purchase it, turn around, and return," she said.


Jadvyga represents one of the 230,000 Lithuanians who traveled to Belarus in the first half of this year alone.

The allure of such trips for many was not just confined to cost savings; it was further augmented by the visa-free policy introduced by Minsk in April 2022, aimed at Lithuanian visitors.

Despite the Lithuanian government's advice against travel to the authoritarian Belarus, this has not dissuaded Lithuanians.

The Lithuanian government is set to close the Sumskas and Tveresius border checkpoints with Belarus later this week, leaving the ones currently used mainly by freight transport. The decision is expected to come into force on Friday.

Red signs near the border checkpoints have been installed, saying "Don't risk your safety, don't go to Belarus, you may never come back".

Reports from border guards unveil instances of Lithuanian citizens being taken to a separate room for questioning on the Belarusian side. They are asked about their views on Belarus and Russia's involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Their electronic devices and social media activities also come under scrutiny. These actions are believed to be carried out by unidentified individuals, possibly affiliated with the KGB.


Among Lithuanians, emotions regarding the impending restrictions range between anger and frustration.

Sergej, a construction worker who undertakes monthly shopping trips to Belarus, dismisses the Lithuanian authorities' concerns, stating that he has never encountered the situations they warn about.

"Do you like being deceived? I don't, and that's what this is. What can really happen there? It's baseless, and frankly, quite ridiculous to me," he said from the line of cars at the Sumskas border checkpoint. "It would be more advantageous to foster amicable relations with our neighbors, yet we appear to be fostering confrontation without reason. Who gains from this?"

Violeta Portasovic, a Vilnius resident who frequently travels to Astravyets with her Belarusian husband to visit his family, called the situation "utter chaos". "It's ordinary people who will bear the brunt. How can we endorse it when we are the ones suffering?" she lamented.

Jadvyga, who travels to Belarus o buy medicines, opts to remain detached from political matters. "I stay uninvolved and keep my opinions to myself. There's no point in branding fists," she says.