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Belarus volunteers struggle for Ukraine towards 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 for certain his brother was killed by the nation’s safety forces.

What united them is their willpower to withstand Lukashenko by combating towards Russian forces in Ukraine.

Volunteers from Belarus practice at a capturing 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 affix a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine towards Russian assaults.
(AP Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

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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 towards 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 apply at a capturing 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 affix a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine towards Russian assaults. 
(AP Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

For the Belarusians, who consider 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 “large brother.” Russia, for its half, has pumped billions of {dollars} into shoring up Lukashenko’s Soviet-style, state-controlled financial system with low cost power 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 apply at a capturing 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 affix a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine towards Russian assaults. 
(AP Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

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 almost 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 apply at a capturing 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 Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

For lots of the Belarusians, their base is Poland, a rustic on NATO’s jap flank that borders Belarus and Ukraine and which has develop 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 apply at a capturing 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 Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

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

“We perceive that it is a lengthy journey to free Belarus and the journey begins in Ukraine,” stated 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 apply at a capturing 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 towards 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 Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

“When the Ukraine battle will likely be finally over, our battle will simply begin. It’s unimaginable to free the nation of Belarus with out driving Putin’s fascist troops out of Ukraine,” he stated.

Prokopiev heads a unit known as “Pahonia” that has been coaching recruits. The Related Press interviewed him as he oversaw an train involving firing pistols and different weapons into {old} automobiles in simulations of battle eventualities. They had been being skilled by a Polish ex-police officer who’s now a non-public capturing 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 capturing 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 Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

Prokopiev needs his males to realize crucial battle expertise, and he hopes that sooner or later 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 broadly seen as fraudulent, however huge road protests towards Lukashenko being awarded a sixth time period had 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 apply at a capturing vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. 
(AP Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

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

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 had 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 need 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 capturing 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 towards 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 Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

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

Lukashenko has known as them “loopy Belarusian residents,” and authorities have put 50 members of Kastus Kalinouski on a wished record and initiated felony {cases} 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 known 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, reveals a pistol bullet throughout a apply for Belarusian volunteers at a capturing vary close to Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Might 20, 2022. 
(AP Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

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 military training, 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 stated he was going to struggle not solely to assist Ukraine “however to make Belarus impartial.” He stated it was additionally essential for him that individuals notice that the Belarusian individuals are very completely 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 capturing 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 Picture/Michal Dyjuk)

It’s a harmful mission. At the very least 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 fighting in Ukraine can really feel much less harmful at occasions than looking for 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 apply at a capturing 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 affix a legion of international fighters defending Ukraine towards Russian assaults.
(AP Picture/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.

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Kukhta stated his half-brother, Nikita Krivtsov, was discovered {dead} by hanging in a wooded space exterior Minsk in 2020. Police stated 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 assist for Ukraine isn’t about revenge, solely about combating for democratic change.

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



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