Belarusian dissidents fight for Ukraine to help unseat Lukashenko
Hundreds of Belarusian citizens have joined four Ukrainian deployments on the front lines in response to Minsk’s key role in the Russian invasion.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has hosted tens of thousands of Russian soldiers who were used for the attack on Kyiv in Russia’s invasion.
A Chatham House opinion poll last month reported that 97 per cent of Belarusians opposed any involvement of Belarusian troops in Ukraine alongside Russian forces but approximately only 70 per cent condemned the shelling of Ukraine from Belarusian territory.
Meanwhile, numerous Belarusians, with funding from expats in the rest of Europe, have arrived in Ukraine to fight the totalitarianism of Putin and Lukashenko. Other recruits come from the Belarusian communities in Poland and Lithuania.
The presence of pro-Ukrainian Belarusians helps shift the country’s portrayal as a loyal ally to Putin into another victim of Russian expansionism.
Belarusians have faced similar sanctions to Russians. The Czech Republic stopped issuing visas to Belarusians and Tartu University in Estonia said it will not enrol Belarusian students next year in solidarity with Ukraine.
Germany blocked Belarusian bank accounts and a clinic in Munich said it would not accept Belarusian patients. Belarusians who escaped from Lukashenko’s regime into Ukraine and then fled the war to the European Union are not entitled to the same temporary protection as Ukrainians.
The largest Belarusian fighting contingent is the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion of up to 400 fighters named after a 19th-century writer and revolutionary associated with Belarusian self-determination.
The force has reportedly taken part in counteroffensives north of Kyiv, including the recapture of the strategic suburb of Irpin northwest of the capital.
Within Belarus there have also been reports of sabotage attacks on the rail network, including hacking, to block the flow of Russian military supplies.
Volunteers refer to Russia’s “occupation” of Belarus at the invitation of the Lukashenko regime, which has vowed to jail those involved.
One volunteer, who only gave the name Dmitry, 27, of Minsk, who joined the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion, told Britain’s i newspaper: “It’s straightforward – without a free and democratic Ukraine, there cannot be a free Belarus. We have to fight alongside our Ukrainian brothers to stop Putin, to throw him and his soldiers back across the border. When this is done we will take back Belarus from the tyrant Lukashenko. It was impossible to stand aside while Ukrainians are murdered by Putin.”
Belarusian volunteers. Picture credit: YouTube