Countless foreigners from several dozen countries are fighting on the side of Ukraine in the war against Russian aggression. A few hours before the night curfew, in Irish bars from Lviv to Kyiv and Odesa, you can hear groups of various American, European and even Japanese and Korean volunteers exchanging stories and discussing future trips to the front.
Although neither of the volunteers are members of the armed forces of their country, most of them were serving, often in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some of these people openly talk about the inadequacy of their domestic political leaders, only one contingent is actually using the war in Ukraine as a training ground for regime change at home: these are Belarusians.
“After the victory of Ukraine, our struggle will only begin,” a Belarusian fighter who served in Severodonetsk and Bakhmut told Newsweek. “For us, the war in Ukraine is only the first step towards the liberation of our native land.”
In August 2020, after the Belarusian President Oleksandr Lukashenko was declared the winner of his sixth presidential election received 80.1% of the votes, town squares across the country were almost immediately filled with __ thousands of citizens peacefully protesting the result, which has not been recognized as legal by any Western country.
Even though it sometimes seemed that the public pressure might force the Lukashenko’s regime to seek some form of political compromise with its constituents, but the combination of assistance of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and violent repressions of the local police was enough to keep Lukashenka in the presidential palace.
“In 2020, we learned that, unfortunately, Belarusian civil society cannot cause any political changes without threatening to use violence,” the Belarusian fighter explained.
Although most of the soldiers in the Belarusian volunteer units fighting in Ukraine were required to serve in their country’s military forces, the experience they have gained during this war sets them apart from their peers at home, even those who served in Lukashenka’s security services.
“About one year ago, very few of us were experienced soldiers, but the situation is changing every week,” he said. “I knew how to shoot at the range, but we didn’t know what it means to fight against tanks and artillery. Now, when we do this, OMON does not scare us.”
“We will defeat Putin in Ukraine,” he added. “And without Putin, Lukashenka no longer exists.”
Not only the Belarusian front-line soldiers understand the reality of Lukashenka’s political vulnerability. Until February 24 of this year, Oleksiy Frantzkevych, the head of the Belarusian Crisis Center in Lviv, was engaged in helping Belarusian political emigrants abroad. However, since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion against Ukraine, his work has been focused on achieving a battlefield victory over Putin’s forces.
“The Ukrainians are fighting with everything they have,” Frantskevich said. “They donate money to the army because they know that their __ hope for the future depends on the victory in this war, and the Belarusians understand the same.”
While Western governments continue to supply Ukraine with the modern weapons which it needs to liberate the parts of its territory still under Russian occupation, Frantzkevych’s efforts are part of a lesser-appreciated international campaign to ensure that the men and women who take participation in hostilities, were in comfortable conditions and well fed, as far as possible under the circumstances.
“We collect canned goods, boots, pickup trucks and a lot of other things that are needed at the front,” Frantskevich said. “The whole civilized world supports Ukraine, and real Belarusians are also part of it.”
The Belarusian fighter, like thousands of the Ukrainian soldiers who are now sitting in cold trenches on the front line of the war, express their gratitude.
“We receive cigarettes from the Ukrainian volunteers, warm pants from the UK, food rations from France,” he said.