Meet the Belarusians Who Are Fighting Russia in Ukraine

Pavel Kukhta fought against Russia in the Donbas region of Ukraine from 2016 to 2018. “I am agile and young, and a high sense of justice motivated me to join the fight,” he said. But Mr. Kukhta is not Ukrainian – he is from neighboring Belarus, whose government is Vladimir Putin’s closest ally.

Mr. Kukhta, 24, was nearly deaf in one ear when an explosion killed one of his teammates. “I have no regrets,” he said. He continued the war against Russia from Warsaw, where he recruited Belarusians for the Ukrainian army. Since late February, he is estimated to have helped bring more than 200 Belarusians to Ukraine to fight Russia.

“These people are boycotts of the conscience of Belarusians,” Mr. Kukhta said. President Aleksandr Lukashenko and Putin have formed “the synergy of evil in our country,” as he put it. Belarus also provides launch sites for the Russian military and rockets into Ukraine. But the people of Belarus “doesn’t support this at all, and this is why we are in this war,” Mr. Kukhta said.

Their decision reveals much about regional politics. Mr. Lukashenko has been in office since 1994, when the population grew again. After the fraudulent election in 2020, people proved a lot. Mr. Putin helped put an end to the brutality of the protests. Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of the pro-democracy television channel Belsat, which broadcasts from Poland to Belarus, said:

As the Russian military faltered in Ukraine, Putin pressured Belarus to enter the war as an active fighter. Mr. Lukashenko has so far refused, in what his critics have called an act of self-protection. Romaszewska-Guzy said: “If the army is killed, it will be too much even for the Belarusians who are threatened and persecuted. “I think the soldiers will defect and surrender.” At home, “protests are possible”, especially if Western sanctions cause excitement.

Belarusian dissidents and Ukrainians share a common enemy in Mr. Putin. Evgeniy Mihasyuk, 27, said: “Hopes of defeat against Russia will go up in smoke, which will weaken support and support for Belarus,” said Evgeniy Mihasyuk, 27. an 1863 uprising against the Russian Empire.

Veranika Yanovich, another Belarusian in the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion in Ukraine, with her husband, Alexey Lazarev.


Photo:

Press Service Battalion Kastus Kalinouski

So are Veranika Yanovich, 25, and her husband, Alexey Lazarev. Before getting married, the couple fled Belarus in 2021 and were living in the city of Lviv, western Ukraine when Russia invaded. When they heard about the opportunity to join the battalion, “we got on the first train and went to Kyiv,” she said in a video interview from the Ukrainian capital.

“The motivation is simple,” continued Ms. Yanovich. “Lukashenko is very dependent on Russia, and the death of the dictatorship in Russia will mean the death of Lukashenko’s dictatorship.”

Ms. Yanovich oversaw the inventory, procurement and equipping of soldiers on combat duty. The man she loved went to war and she was ready to join him on the battlefield if needed: “I went through combat training,” she said. “Conscription soldiers serving in Belarus didn’t fire as many bullets during their entire mission as I did recently. . . . I can even throw grenades.”

Aside from enlisting together, the two Belarusians got married in March: “We just thought, ‘Who is Putin to spoil our plans?’ When asked how she envisions their future, she said, “After it’s all over, and when my friends [in Belarus] out of prison, we’ll get married. . . . If we decide to build a house, it will certainly have a very good bomb shelter.”

Ukraine closely guarded its military statistics, including the number of Belarusians who took part. Sabina Aliyeva, a Belarusian journalist who volunteers to help the battalion in public relations, said the Kastuś Kalinoŭski Battalion also did not disclose its number, but that it included “hundreds” of Belarusians. Several members of the battalion took part in the fighting in Bucha and Irpin.

This is not the only battalion in Ukraine that is predominantly Belarusian. There are also “people who want to come from Belarus to help the men in Ukraine, but we cannot help them now. Right now, it’s very difficult to get out of Belarus,” said Aliaksandra Zhylko of the House of Belarus in Warsaw, which supports Belarusian exiles and dissidents.

Tomasz Grzywaczewski, a Polish journalist who covered the Belarusian protests in 2020, said that the West missed an important opportunity to counter Russian expansionism when it failed to gain support. meaning from the freedom movement of Belarus. “It’s a great shame on the Western community – and that, I mean all of us – that we’ve left these people alone,” he said. “If the Western collective reacted in a different way, perhaps the situation would be different” in Ukraine today.

“Right now, we need to push Russia as much as we can,” Grzywaczewski said. The policy of appeasement only leads to war”. And if Ukraine wins against Russia, Mr. Lukashenko may wish he made concessions to peaceful protesters when given the opportunity.

Mrs. Melchior is the editor of the Journal.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot Interview with General Jack Keane. Image: Shutterstock / AP / Russian Ministry of Defense Summary: Mark Kelly

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Alley Einstein

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