Belarus volunteers combat for Ukraine in opposition to Russian invasion: ‘An extended journey’

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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 willpower to withstand Lukashenko by combating in opposition to Russian forces in Ukraine.

Volunteers from Belarus train at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are improving their military skills in Poland before deploying to Ukraine, where they plan to join a legion of foreign fighters defending Ukraine against Russian attacks.

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are bettering their army abilities in Poland earlier than deploying to Ukraine, the place they plan to hitch a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine in opposition to Russian assaults.
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

Belarusians are amongst those that have answered a name by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for international fighters to go to Ukraine and be 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 in opposition to freedom.

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, Friday, May 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are improving their military skills in Poland before deploying to Ukraine, where they plan to join a legion of foreign fighters defending Ukraine against Russian attacks. 

Volunteers from Belarus observe at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Might 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are bettering their army abilities in Poland earlier than deploying to Ukraine, the place they plan to hitch a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine in opposition to Russian assaults. 
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

For the Belarusians, who think about 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 “big 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. 

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, Friday, May 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are improving their military skills in Poland before deploying to Ukraine, where they plan to join a legion of foreign fighters defending Ukraine against Russian attacks. 

Volunteers from Belarus observe at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Might 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are bettering their army abilities in Poland earlier than deploying to Ukraine, the place they plan to hitch a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine in opposition to Russian assaults. 
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

Weakening Putin, the Belarusian volunteers imagine, 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.

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Volunteers from Belarus practice at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, Friday, May 20, 2022. Belarusians are among those who have answered a call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreign fighters to go to Ukraine and join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

Volunteers from Belarus observe at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Might 20, 2022. Belarusians are amongst those that have answered a name by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for international fighters to go to Ukraine and be part of the Worldwide Legion for the Territorial Protection of Ukraine.
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

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

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. Belarusians are among those who have answered a call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreign fighters to go to Ukraine and join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

Volunteers from Belarus observe at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. Belarusians are amongst those that have answered a name by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for international fighters to go to Ukraine and be part of the Worldwide Legion for the Territorial Protection of Ukraine.
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

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

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“We understand that it’s a long journey to free Belarus and the journey starts 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.

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. Belarusians are among the foreign fighters who have volunteered to take up arms in Ukraine against Russian forces. They consider the Ukrainians defending their homeland to be their brethren. And by joining their resistance to Russia's onslaught, they hope to weaken the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and ultimately that of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

Volunteers from Belarus observe at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. Belarusians are among the many international fighters who’ve volunteered to take up arms in Ukraine in opposition to Russian forces. They think about the Ukrainians defending their homeland to be their brethren. And by becoming a member of their resistance to Russia’s onslaught, they hope to weaken the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and finally that of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

“When the Ukraine war will be eventually over, our war will just start. It is impossible to free the country of Belarus without driving Putin’s fascist troops out of Ukraine,” he mentioned.

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 automobiles in simulations of battle eventualities. They have been being educated by a Polish ex-police officer who’s now a personal taking pictures teacher.

American former army member, Matthew Parker, holds a smoke grenade during a training session for Belarusian volunteers at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. Belarusians are among those who have answered a call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreign fighters to go to Ukraine and join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. 

American former military member, Matthew Parker, holds a smoke grenade throughout a coaching session for Belarusian volunteers at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. Belarusians are amongst those that have answered a name by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for international fighters to go to Ukraine and be part of the Worldwide Legion for the Territorial Protection of Ukraine. 
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

Prokopiev needs his males to realize crucial battle expertise, and he hopes that in the future quickly a window of alternative will open for democratic change in Belarus. However he says it is going to require fighters like himself to be ready, and for members of the safety forces in Belarus to show in opposition to Lukashenko.

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

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. 

Volunteers from Belarus observe at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. 
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

“Power from Lukashenko can only be taken by force,” he mentioned.

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

The weapons of volunteers from Belarus are placed on the ground as they take a break at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, Friday, May 20, 2022. Belarusians are among the foreign fighters who have volunteered to take up arms in Ukraine against Russian forces. They consider the Ukrainians defending their homeland to be their brethren. And by joining their resistance to Russia's onslaught, they hope to weaken the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and ultimately that of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. 

The weapons of volunteers from Belarus are positioned on the bottom as they take a break at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, Friday, Might 20, 2022. Belarusians are among the many international fighters who’ve volunteered to take up arms in Ukraine in opposition to Russian forces. They think about the Ukrainians defending their homeland to be their brethren. And by becoming a member of their resistance to Russia’s onslaught, they hope to weaken the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and finally that of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. 
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

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 “crazy Belarusian citizens,” and authorities have put 50 members of Kastus Kalinouski on a wished checklist and initiated felony instances in opposition to them.

One prepared 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 advised he can be jailed if he didn’t comply.

Polish instructor, Dariusz Tomysek, shows a pistol bullet during a practice for Belarusian volunteers at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. 

Polish teacher, Dariusz Tomysek, exhibits a pistol bullet throughout a observe for Belarusian volunteers at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. 
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

Dressed all in black from a hooded sweatshirt to his boots, he admitted to feeling nervous because the second arrived to go into Ukraine. He had by no means obtained 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.

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

A volunteer from Belarus gets out of a car as he practices at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. Belarusians are among those who have answered a call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreign fighters to go to Ukraine and join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine. 

A volunteer from Belarus will get out of a automobile as he practices at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. Belarusians are amongst those that have answered a name by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for international fighters to go to Ukraine and be part of the Worldwide Legion for the Territorial Protection of Ukraine. 
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

It’s a harmful mission. A minimum of 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 in search of to withstand Lukashenko at dwelling, the place many activists are in jail dealing with harsh circumstances.

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a shooting range near Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, May 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are improving their military skills in Poland before deploying to Ukraine, where they plan to join a legion of foreign fighters defending Ukraine against Russian attacks.

Volunteers from Belarus observe at a taking pictures vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. The fighters from Belarus are bettering their army abilities in Poland earlier than deploying to Ukraine, the place they plan to hitch a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine in opposition to Russian assaults.
(AP Photograph/Michal Dyjuk)

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 lifeless 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 isn’t about revenge, solely about combating for democratic change.

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

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