by Dennik N
07 Jul 2022
The regime in Minsk is apparently antsy over the growth of a new force: Belarusian volunteers training and fighting alongside Ukrainians against Russia.
Almost two years have passed since the beginning of the revolution in Belarus, while Ukraine has now been defending itself from the Russian military for more than three months. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime has put away more than 1,200 political prisoners, a number that continues to grow. Radical new laws have been implemented, including introducing the death penalty for the planning of a terrorist act – and the Belarusian regime is all too happy to label politicians, diplomats, journalists, and just about anyone else “terrorists.” Sometimes it feels like Lukashenka and his entourage are “turning the screws” on a daily basis, so that not even a hint of resistance appears in the country.
However, in a neighboring country – Ukraine – a new force is growing, feared not only by Lukashenka himself but also by members of his security forces. That force consists of Belarusian volunteers training and fighting alongside Ukrainians against the Russian aggressor.
According to information passed onto Belarusian experts and democratically minded politicians directly from within the official system, all of Lukashenka’s recent military steps have to do with his fear of the Belarusian volunteers now fighting in Ukraine. The establishment of the Southern Operational Command of the Belarusian armed forces, as well as the creation of a homeland defense, are both motivated by fear of armed and well-organized Belarusians.
The Belarusian political analyst Pavel Usov, for example, is convinced that the arrival of Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine provides a new opportunity for creating real change in the country. He said as much during his interview for Euroradio:
“We shouldn’t think that the [current Belarusian] government is not aware of this threat. This [volunteer movement] serves not only as a serious base for preparing Belarusians, but also as practical preparation for real combat operations. You could even say that the Belarusian military has no units with real combat experience. In the independent Belarusian movement, however, we already have more than a platoon of people who have been at the frontline. The Kalinowski Regiment and the volunteer movement are another chance for Belarusians to change the situation in their country.”
The Kalinowski Regiment (formerly the Kalinowski Battalion) was established by Belarusians who have fought in Ukraine since the Russian invasion of Crimea and Donbas in 2014. Until 2022, these Belarusian volunteers fought on the Ukrainian side in a number of different units, but after Russia’s full-scale invasion [in February] they decided to merge and create a single
formation. Recently, the Kalinowski Battalion turned into the Kalinowski Regiment, meaning it now has at least a thousand members. And their number keeps on growing.
The fighters of the Kalinowski Regiment are currently training and participating in military operations in eastern Ukraine. Volunteers from the Belarusian military unit participated in fighting around Kyiv, in the infamous towns of Bucha, Hostomel, and others. Belarusians are active in operations along the entire frontline and are also training new soldiers.
The Kalinowski Regiment is currently the best-known military formation in Belarus, as well as the one with the most combat experience. And its fighters are openly talking about their objectives: once Ukraine is liberated, they will try to also liberate Belarus.
Another military formation of Belarusians in Ukraine, the Pohonia Battalion was first mentioned by Vadim Prokopiev, a former businessman in the food service sector and currently a Belarusian politician in exile. For some time, Pohonia had an ambiguous reputation: It would appear that volunteers were only receiving training from Warsaw, without really being involved in combat. Recently, however, the first members of the Pohonia Battalion signed contracts with Ukraine’s armed forces (the same also applies to the Kalinowski Regiment – it is a necessary requirement.) This means that they will soon join combat operations and get real military experience.
Representatives of the Pohonia Battalion say there is nothing wrong with the training of their soldiers taking this long. On the contrary, they say it is the right approach: Sending untrained soldiers into war would be their death sentence. New soldiers must be able to face the challenges of the battlefield.
The Kalinowski Regiment and the Pohonia Battalion say that the number of people interested in joining the Belarusian formations is still increasing. The volunteers are filtered in a demanding selection process; high-quality physical preparedness, military experience, and especially battlefield experience are all sought after.
Belarusian volunteer corps are not isolated from the rest of the democratic movement. They receive strong support from politicians, as well as from ordinary Belarusians. The Belarusian diaspora helps not only through collections of food and medicine, but also by providing means of transport and military equipment.
It is hard to say whether Belarusians already see the volunteers of the two units as future liberators of their country from dictatorship. It is, however, clearly a fact that the influence of the volunteer formations is growing on a daily basis. If their plans do not remain theoretical, they may one day play a very important role in the building of a democratic Belarus.
After Lukashenka announced the launch of a civilian homeland defense, the Kalinowski Regiment called on Belarusians living in Belarus to join both the homeland defense and the territorial defense, so as to receive military training and prepare for an armed fight against the dictatorship. This is clearly very much a concern for both Lukashenka and his entourage, so it is quite possible that his plans for a homeland defense might yet be scrapped.
This article originally appeared in Dennik N. Given the repression against local journalists in Belarus, Dennik N decided not to publish Maks’ full name. His Belarusian daily for Dennik N is published with support from SlovakAid. Slightly shortened and edited for style. Reprinted by permission. Translated by Matus Nemeth.