Belarusian Exiles in Ukraine Be a part of the Struggle Towards a Frequent Foe: Russia

LVIV, Ukraine — In Belarus, Konstantin Suschik was a graphic designer who used his abilities to help the opposition motion towards President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the strongman who has held energy for practically 28 years. The motion collapsed in a wave of repression after lots of of hundreds of individuals protested Mr. Lukashenko’s fraudulent re-election in 2020.

Now Mr. Suschik is combating towards him — and towards his patron, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — not by designing political campaigns however with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. And never in Belarus, however in Ukraine.

Mr. Suschik, 31, is one among lots of of Belarusian dissidents who’ve joined the Kastus Kalinouski battalion, a volunteer unit that’s serving to to defend Ukraine as a part of the official military. Not like the hundreds of overseas fighters who’ve poured into Ukraine to combat towards Russia, Mr. Suschik was already residing in exile in Kyiv, one among hundreds of Belarusians who fled to Ukraine to keep away from jail for his or her activism at house.

“As quickly because the warfare began, we determined to remain right here as a result of there’s truly nowhere to run, our nation is misplaced beneath occupation,” mentioned Mr. Suschik, in a phone interview from a coaching heart in an undisclosed suburb of the Ukrainian capital, as capturing could possibly be heard within the distance.

“Kyiv is being bombed and we realized that is most likely the one such actual probability — the final probability — to win again Belarus, shield Ukraine and really make this world a greater place.”

From the outset of the warfare, Mr. Lukashenko has allowed Moscow to make use of Belarus, which has a 674-mile border with Ukraine, as a staging floor. Russian forces have poured into Ukraine from Belarus in an try — to date unsuccessful — to take Kyiv. Western intelligence businesses are watching carefully for indicators that Belarus might ship in its personal troops to help the Russian assault.

“Now we have a standard enemy, Putin and Lukashenko,” mentioned Sergey Bespalov, a former journalist from the Belarusian capital, Minsk, who went into exile in Ukraine after which joined the battalion. “These are the 2 individuals who unleashed this warfare.”

Mr. Bespalov, talking in a cellphone interview, mentioned the destiny of Ukraine and Belarus have been intermingled.

“If Kyiv falls, it is going to be dangerous for everybody, together with Belarus,” he mentioned. “Belarus is already occupied. Russian troops are in Belarus. Russian provides are being despatched from Belarus, Russian troopers are being handled there, and from the territory of Belarus missiles goal Ukraine.”

The Belarusian opposition chief, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, expressed on Twitter her help for the battalion, posting images of billboards designed by Mr. Suschik.

“Collectively without end,” she wrote, utilizing the purple and white colours of the Belarusian opposition motion and the yellow and blue of Ukraine’s flag.

The battalion was shaped within the days after the full-scale invasion started. Belarusians who had been a part of different teams, in addition to new recruits, introduced the unit, named after a 19th-century Belarusian who led an rebellion towards the Russian Empire, on March 9. The posts on their social media channels finish with “Glory to Ukraine! Lengthy Stay Belarus!” Each are slogans of every nation’s pro-democracy actions.

“Each Belarusian is accountable for the scenario in Ukraine,” learn one fund-raising request posted to Telegram on March 10. “As a result of silence can also be homicide.”

Mr. Suschik mentioned that extra Belarusians have been arriving to hitch the battalion, which has “lots of and lots of” of members, although there was no technique to verify his declare. Many are coming from locations like Poland and Lithuania, which each host giant Belarusian communities following the crackdown that started in 2020.

“That is essential for me and for many individuals to disassociate from Lukashenko’s regime, which is supported by solely a small a part of society, from the bulk who help Ukraine or would positively not take part within the invasion,” mentioned Pavel Slunkin, a former Belarus diplomat who give up the service in 2020 and is an analyst on the European Council for International Relations.

4 days after the warfare, Mr. Lukashenko held a referendum, extensively seen as rigged, that renounced Belarus’s non-nuclear standing, elevating the specter that Russia may deploy short-range nuclear weapons in Belarus.

“These individuals within the battalion reveal one other picture,” Mr. Slunkin mentioned. “They present to Ukraine that Belarusians are demanding freedom and serving to to combat for freedom in Ukraine.”

He added: “In 2020, the combat between democracy and autocracy came about in Belarus. However Belarus didn’t obtain sufficient help. Now the combat is in Ukraine.”

Mr. Slunkin mentioned that he additionally believed the exiles’ involvement was essential for the nation’s long-term popularity, since many Belarusians overseas, most of whom left due to Mr. Lukashenko, have been seen as coming from an aggressor nation and will face prejudices over the warfare, much like what has generally occurred to Russians who’ve fled Mr. Putin’s crackdown.

Lots of the tens of hundreds of Belarusians who had fled to Ukraine at the moment are on the transfer once more, Mr. Slunkin mentioned, however they face issues as a result of many by no means received a residency allow, and, due to this fact, don’t have the identical rights to authorized safety within the European Union as Ukrainian refugees. Many are additionally penniless as a result of Ukraine has frozen the financial institution accounts of Belarusian residents.

Each newly minted troopers, Mr. Suschik and Mr. Bespalov mentioned that since their nation was used as a staging floor by Russia, they’d been met with suspicion within the early days of the warfare and have been questioned by the police. Whereas their main motivation was defeating Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko, each mentioned that additionally they needed to point out Ukraine and the world that Belarusians didn’t help the destruction wrought by the warfare.

“Our foremost mission right here is to not lose what we now have achieved in 2020,” Mr. Suschik mentioned, referring to Belarus’s protest motion, which gained world popularity of its bravery. “And to not develop into allies of our enemy, in order that Belarusians world wide will not be perceived as the identical invaders and enemies.’’

Mr. Lukashenko dismissed the Belarusian fighters as loopy throughout a gathering on March 15 with representatives from his nation’s safety businesses, and he accused them of stealing the cash they raised.

“They shout, ‘No to warfare, no to warfare!’ all over the place, and kind battalions of insane residents,” he mentioned. Even when the diaspora or somebody overseas collects cash and sends it to them, 99 p.c of this cash will settle of their pockets.”

The truth is, the battalion shouldn’t be significantly nicely outfitted. One Belarusian man within the Czech Republic started gathering cash for the battalion to purchase bulletproof vests.

“Even Somali pirates are higher outfitted than a few of our guys,” the person, Kirill Yakimovich instructed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He has raised hundreds of {dollars} to purchase tools for them.

Individuals inside Belarus are serving to in different methods, too, like disabling the railway tracks used to resupply the Russian troopers throughout the border.

“There is no such thing as a railway connection between Ukraine and Belarus presently,” Oleksandr Kamyshin, the director of Ukraine’s nationwide railway firm instructed Present Time, a Russian-language media outlet supported by the U.S. authorities. “I’m grateful to Belarus’s railway staff for what they’re doing,” he mentioned.

Two Belarusian volunteers have already died: Ilya Hrenov, a former laptop programmer who had served as a part of the Belarusian Territorial Protection Firm of the Azov Battalion, was killed after combating within the battles for Bucha, exterior Kyiv, on March 4.

On March 13, Aleksei Skoble, 31, who had been combating for Ukraine for the reason that warfare started in 2014, was additionally killed.

Russia is recruiting Belarusians to combat, too. The Ukrainian Protection Ministry mentioned Wednesday that it had data that Belarusians have been being provided a wage equal to $1,000 to $1,500 per thirty days to combat for Moscow, in addition to advantages for learning at Russian universities.

Mr. Suschik and Mr. Bespalov mentioned that they have been keen to die as a part of Ukraine’s warfare, even when they ended up combating their very own compatriots.

“I perceive that if this menace shouldn’t be stopped now, then my nation merely is not going to exist,” Mr. Bespalov mentioned. However, he added, he was satisfied of Ukraine’s eventual victory and believed that the battle would then proceed in his house nation.

“As quickly as there’s a sign, as quickly as we win, everyone seems to be ready for the liberation of Belarus,” he mentioned. “And plenty of Ukrainians say they’re prepared to assist us with this.”

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