‘A long journey’: Volunteers from Belarus fight for Ukraine

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Written By Chris

One is a restaurateur who fled Belarus when he discovered he was about to be arrested for criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko. One other was given the selection of both denouncing fellow opposition activists or being jailed. And one is definite his brother was killed by the nation’s safety forces.

What united them is their dedication to withstand Lukashenko by combating towards Russian forces in Ukraine. Belarusians are amongst those that have answered a name by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for international fighters to go to Ukraine and be a part of the Worldwide Legion for the Territorial Protection of Ukraine, given the excessive stakes in a battle which many see as a battle pitting dictatorship towards freedom.

For the Belarusians, who contemplate Ukrainians a brethren nation, the stakes really feel particularly excessive.

Russian troops used Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine early within the battle, and Lukashenko has publicly stood by longtime ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing him as his “massive brother.” Russia, for its half, has pumped billions of {dollars} into shoring up Lukashenko’s Soviet-style, state-controlled financial system with low cost vitality and loans.

Weakening Putin, the Belarusian volunteers consider, would additionally weaken Lukashenko, who has held energy since 1994, and create a gap to topple his oppressive authorities and produce democratic change to the nation of practically 10 million.

For most of the Belarusians, their base is Poland, a rustic on NATO’s japanese flank that borders Belarus and Ukraine and which has turn out to be a haven for pro-democracy Belarusian dissidents earlier than changing into one for battle refugees from Ukraine.

A number of the volunteer fighters are already in Poland, and a few solely move by means of briefly on their technique to Ukraine.

“We perceive that it is a lengthy journey to free Belarus and the journey begins in Ukraine,” mentioned Vadim Prokopiev, a 50-year-old businessman who used to run eating places in Minsk. He fled the nation after a rumor unfold that he can be arrested for saying publicly that the federal government wasn’t doing sufficient for small companies.

“When the Ukraine battle can be ultimately over, our battle will simply begin. It’s unattainable to free the nation of Belarus with out driving Putin’s fascist troops out of Ukraine,” he mentioned.

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Prokopiev heads a unit referred to as “Pahonia” that has been coaching recruits. The Related Press interviewed him as he oversaw an train involving firing pistols and different weapons into outdated vehicles in simulations of battle situations. They have been being skilled by a Polish ex-police officer who’s now a non-public taking pictures teacher.

Prokopiev desires his males to achieve vital battle expertise, and he hopes that at some point quickly a window of alternative will open for democratic change in Belarus. However he says it’ll require fighters like himself to be ready, and for members of the safety forces in Belarus to show towards Lukashenko.

The 2020 presidential election in Belarus was extensively seen as fraudulent, however large avenue protests towards Lukashenko being awarded a sixth time period have been met with a brutal authorities crackdown, resulting in Prokopiev’s perception that no “velvet revolution” might be anticipated in Belarus.

“Energy from Lukashenko can solely be taken by pressure,” he mentioned.

On Saturday, males with one other unit, Kastus Kalinouski, gathered in Warsaw within the Belarus Home, the place sleeping baggage, mats and different Ukraine-bound gear have been piled excessive. They sat collectively, speaking and snacking on chocolate and low as they ready to deploy to Ukraine later within the day. Most did not need to be interviewed out of considerations for his or her safety and that of household again dwelling.

The regiment, formally a part of Ukraine’s armed forces, was named after the chief of an anti-Russian rebel within the nineteenth century who’s seen as a nationwide hero in Belarus.

Lukashenko has referred to as them “loopy Belarusian residents,” and authorities have put 50 members of Kastus Kalinouski on a wished listing and initiated legal circumstances towards them.

One keen to explain his motivations was a 19-year-old, Ales, who has lived in Poland since final 12 months. He fled Belarus after the nation’s safety service, which remains to be referred to as the KGB, detained him and compelled him to denounce an anti-Lukashenko resistance group in a video. He was informed he can be jailed if he didn’t comply.

Dressed all in black from a hooded sweatshirt to his boots, he admitted to feeling nervous because the second arrived to move into Ukraine. He had by no means acquired any army coaching, however would get it as soon as he arrived in Ukraine. However simply how a lot, and the place he can be deployed, he did not but know.

He mentioned he was going to battle not solely to assist Ukraine “however to make Belarus impartial.” He mentioned it was additionally necessary for him that individuals notice that the Belarusian persons are very totally different from the Lukashenko authorities.

It’s a harmful mission. No less than 4 volunteers from the Kastus Kalinouski unit have already died. A deputy commander, Aliaksiej Skoblia, was killed in a Russian ambush close to Kyiv and was later acknowledged by Zelenskyy as a Hero of Ukraine.

Nonetheless, the combating in Ukraine can really feel much less harmful at instances than searching for to withstand Lukashenko at dwelling, the place many activists are in jail dealing with harsh circumstances.

Organizing the Kastus Kalinouski recruits was Pavel Kukhta, a 24-year-old who already fought in Ukraine’s Donbas area in 2016, struggling burns and the lack of most of listening to in a single ear.

Kukhta mentioned his half-brother, Nikita Krivtsov, was discovered useless by hanging in a wooded space exterior Minsk in 2020. Police mentioned there was no proof of foul play however Kukhta says he and the remainder of the household are sure Krivtsov was killed for becoming a member of the anti-Lukashenko protests.

However he insisted that his help for Ukraine is just not about revenge, solely about combating for democratic change.

“If Putin is defeated, Lukashenko can be defeated,” he mentioned.

Learn extra:

Russia-appointed head of occupied Ukraine city wounded in blast

‘Enterprise as standard’ with Russia unattainable: Polish president

Russia claims strikes pound Ukraine’s forces in Donbas and Mykolaiv areas

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