Wanted in Belarus, Combatants in Ukraine
Having fled from Lukashenko’s Belarus, they have become foreign fighters ready to defend Kyiv
These Belarusian volunteers were recruited via Telegram. Many have never picked up a weapon before, however, all of them have one thing in common: their opposition to the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko. Regardless of whether Belarus decides to enter the war alongside Putin’s Russia, these volunteers are ready to fight side by side with the Ukrainian resistance.
“My parents don’t know I’m about to leave,” explains a young man at the Belarusian Volunteer Centre in Warsaw, Poland.
“I’ll make sure they don’t find out by continuing to talk to them on the phone as if everything were normal. I don’t want to endanger them. Since I fled Belarus the police have come to the house more than once to look for me. The phenomenon is not uncommon: the men photographed in this report number around twenty and range from the very young to fifty-somethings.
Many of them fled the country following the “slipper revolutions”, the series of popular protests between 2020 and 2021 against corruption, repressive policies and the mismanagement of the Covid-19 emergency that followed Lukashenko’s re-election for the sixth time since 1994. Managing the Belarusian Volunteer Centre is Pavel, aged 24 and a former combatant in the Donbas who fought the Russians between 2016 and 2017.
Since then he has never been back to Belarus. “I collect donations and deal with the enrolment of volunteers via a Telegram channel,” he explains. “But I also coordinate transport to Ukraine via Lviv and Kyiv by car, bus or train as well as the first contacts with the resistance that supplies them with weapons and military training.”