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Exiles feel at home at the 'Karma' bar in Warsaw

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By Louise Miner  with AFP
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Karma bar, Warsaw
Karma bar, Warsaw   -   Copyright  WOJTEK RADWANSKI / AFP

There's now a bar in Poland for people who've left repressive countries to come and feel at home. Today, most of the clients at the Karma bar in central Warsaw are from Belarus and Ukraine. They can express themselves creatively through discussions and art exhibitions.

Belarusian co-founder Gleb Kovalev has had to move from country to country.

"It's pretty much a migrant bar now, not only like an art bar but we are welcoming everyone who is sharing our values here," he said. "It's still like art, music, tattoos, a certain way of democracy, and freedom that we didn't have in the places we escaped. And also peace that Poland can easily offer us now."

The first "Karma" bar opened in Minsk in Belarus five years ago and a community of artists, musicians and partygoers immediately formed around it. But when Belarus was overwhelmed with clashes between protesters and the police after the presidential elections two years ago, Gleb decided it was time to leave the country.

"It was the night that changed everything in our lives," he explained. "For me, it was just the last day when I lived in Belarus because those three months that I extra stayed there I had only one thing in my head: I have to leave right now. "

In 2021, Gleb opened another "Karma" bar in Kyiv, but when the Russian army invaded Ukraine, he, like many others, ended up in Poland. Now there are two bars in the country with the same name and the Latin motto Sibi et Hominibus - "For yourself and for the people."

The bars have increasingly become places of comfort for those trapped away from their homelands.

Veronika Lindorenko is a Belarusian exile and says the bar has helped her. "For me, it's like group therapy, as here I can meet people with the same pains and troubles," she said.