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Story of Belarusian who went to war in Ukraine
Belarusians in the international anti-authoritarian unit of the military/photo from Yauhen's archive
Yauhen comes from the Belarusian city of Baranavichy. Russian troops have used the Baranavichy airfield to attack Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Yauhen, meanwhile, is near Kyiv.
After August 2020, he was forced to leave for Poland because of repression. Recently, he has decided that he must fight on the side of Ukraine.
Euroradio has found out what the Belarusian went to fight for, why he has been preparing for it for a long time and why he thinks the war is here to stay.
"Not just the fate of Ukraine is decided here"
Yauhen arrived in Ukraine on March 8, and the 9, he already showed up at the military base. His unit is unusual - it is an international anti-authoritarian unit.
"People with anarchist, non-authoritarian leftist views and their sympathizers serve here. Most of the guys are Ukrainians, with Belarusians in second place. There are people from Russia, Western Europe and even Canada. All in all, there are 50 people, including girls with combat experience. One of them is a medic," said Yauhen.
After Yauhen was forced to leave home because of repression, he began to prepare for war.
"Belarusian history shows that peaceful protest does not work with mad dictators. Unfortunately, in 2020, the Belarusians did not have a power bloc that could resist the regime. When I arrived in Poland, I began to prepare for war. Judging by how the men in Kalinouski's Belarusian battalion were coming together in an organized manner, I wasn't the only one.
The idea was that forces would be needed if protests broke out in Belarus again, like in August 2020.
As soon as I heard that a war with Russia might break out in Ukraine, I knew I had to get involved. It is not just the fate of Ukraine that is being decided in Ukraine, but that of the entire region. If we can defeat Russian imperialism, there is a hope that the situation in Belarus will change for the better soon".
"I didn't serve in the army, but I had to wear a military uniform"
So far, Yauhen has not had a chance to participate in military action. Usually, his day includes physical training, theoretical classes, and guard duty. There are night patrols.
"I have no combat experience. I did not even serve in the Belarusian army for principle reasons. The situation changed, and I had to put on my military uniform".
Yauhen is often asked how he could go to war if he is an anarchist. After all, it must contradict his views.
"They ask me: why are you fighting for Ukraine? Not for Ukraine. Yes, there are many problems here, which as an anarchist, I criticize. But in Russia, the situation is many times worse. The rights of the Ukrainians and the freedoms that people gained on Maidan and before Maidan -- all the grassroots structures -- will be destroyed if Russia wins.
"I'll have to live with the guilt if I kill someone"
It's pretty quiet in the compound for now, but you never know what will happen tomorrow. You might have to kill or not wake up after a rocket hit. The awareness of the proximity of death, both one's own and another's, is there, Yauhen notes.
Yauhen had undoubtedly heard about Belarusians being treated worse since the start of the war.
"I was one of the admins of the Instagram page covering actions of the Belarusians in Warsaw. Ukrainians actively tagged the account and asked me to tell the Belarusian government not to go to war with Ukraine.
Then I realized that most people from Ukraine were not aware of what was happening in Belarus. And I was describing the situation that we in Warsaw can't influence the government there. Because we ran away from that government, I explained that Belarusians abroad accept refugees, collect humanitarian aid, and someone goes to fight. And none of these people tried to argue with me.
Yauhen is sympathetic to the emotions of Ukrainians. But to those who, for example, in Warsaw, show aggression against Belarusians, he has one question: "Why aren't you in Ukraine?" There you can help not only at the front, emphasizes Yauhen.
"Drive the Russians the f*ck out of the house"
The way the Belarusian regime has behaved toward Ukraine is not surprising to Yauhen.
"At the same time, I can see how Lukashenka tries in every way to avoid the direct involvement of Belarusian soldiers. Perhaps he understands that there won't be a second chair to jump on.
I want to tell the Belarusians not to lose hope, prepare for the worst and expect the best. Everything now suggests that soon, we will live in a free country, and all these bastards will suffer the punishment they deserve.
Yauhen also has a message for the people of his hometown, whose military is helping the Russians bomb Ukraine.
"Get the Russians the fuck out of my house! I really don't have the words. My relatives live near the airfield. Unfortunately, they have the opposite views. I often worry that when the response arrives, my house may suffer".
The war will move to the northern front -- Belarus is still to be liberated
The worst thing I've seen in Ukraine is the huge lines at the exit from the country.
"An endless, huge flow of people. Mostly women and children. Many people with animals. Majority with almost no belongings. I haven't seen any bodies yet, but I think I'm unlikely to see anything worse than these lines".
And on the positive side, I've been a vegan for ten years and was worried that I would become a vegetarian at best when I came to Ukraine. But I even have vegan dry food. Maybe tomorrow I'll eat stew, but right now I'm pleased.
Despite the war, life is pulsing near Kyiv.
"When I stand guard, I see couples walking in love, children playing football, people going to work. The only thing that stands in the background of this pulsing life is men in uniform with guns and sirens".
Expectations about the duration of the war in Ukraine vary: some think it will be over soon, and others are sure it will last for years.
"I am inclined to think that it is here to stay for a long time. For me, the war will not end in Ukraine but will move to the northern front. Belarusians went to fight in Ukraine for a reason. We still have to liberate Belarus afterward," concludes Yauhen.