Belarusian Fighters Remain Committed to Ukrainian Victory, and to Their Own


Pictured, Belarusian volunteers who have been killed in action since the start of the war. Image is part of a museum exhibition in Lviv dedicated to Belarusian fightersCOURTESY OF ALIAKSEI FRANTZKEVICH/ BELARUSIAN CRISIS CENTER

Among the various groups of foreign fighters currently serving on the Ukrainian side in its war against Russian aggression, Belarusians have perhaps the most to gain from a victory over Vladimir Putin‘s forces.

After peaceful protests failed to topple the regime of Kremlin-aligned Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko following disputed elections in 2020, thousands of political exiles left the country. At least hundreds of them have since joined the ranks of Ukraine’s International Legion, where they say they are gaining the skills necessary for executing regime change back home.

“We now have more experience in actual combat than most Belarusian officers do,” Oscar, a current member of the all-Belarusian Volat unit, told Newsweek in Lviv, Ukraine, on the sidelines of a museum exhibition opening dedicated to the Belarusian volunteers who have given their lives fighting in Ukraine.

“The Lukashenko regime really is afraid of what we’ll be able to do the next time there is a political crisis in the country,” he added.

Oscar, who is in his early 20s, fled Belarus following the country’s most recent wave of political upheaval, which occurred following disputed elections in August 2020. In that vote, Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, claimed to have won a sixth term in office with an official vote total of 81.04 percent.

Oscar served as a volunteer election monitor in that vote, and many of his current comrades in arms were arrested and beaten in the wave of protests that followed it.

“There were five days of early voting, then election day itself, and I spent the whole time counting how many people came into the polling station,” Oscar said. “It was necessary to make an accurate count in order to prevent officials from adding falsified ballots for Lukashenko at the end of the process.”

In the end, however, Oscar’s efforts had no impact on the election’s official results.

“On the final day of the voting, while I was walking home on my lunch break, four men in plain clothes jumped out of a civilian car and arrested me,” he said, “and so I was in a jail cell when my polling station submitted its official results, which of course showed an impossibly large majority for Lukashenko.”

That night, while Oscar remained in his cell, protesters began joining him.

“A lot of the people that the police put in with me had been beaten black and blue,” he remembered. “They had us so packed in that everyone had to stand up. They didn’t feed us.”

Oscar was released after a few days, and he immediately joined the protest movement that in the weeks following the election brought hundreds of thousands of Belarusians out onto the streets all across the country. The street demonstrations only abated after Lukashenko’s security services cracked down, with Moscow’s full support, arresting at least 30,000 demonstrators and beating hundreds of them. Oscar and several of his current fellow fighters were among them.

“I knew it was time to leave the country when an investigator called me in as a potential witness to a crime,” he said. “They did that when they wanted people to show up at the police station voluntarily, and so I gathered up my things and went to Ukraine.”

By every indication, Oscar’s suspicions about the Belarusian authorities’ intentions were correct.

“After I’d left, my mother found out that there was a warrant out for me,” he said. “I was being charged with ‘Organizing Participation in Mass Disorder.'”

For over a year, Oscar worked as a cook in the Kyiv area. Although he had no military experience, on February 25, 2022, the second day of Russia’s full-scale invasion, he and a few friends voluntarily appeared at a military recruiting office in order to find out how they could get to the front. They ultimately found a route to the fighting via membership in the Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment, an all-Belarusian unit in Ukraine’s International Legion.

“I had already lost one homeland, and if I didn’t do anything, then I would lose another,” Oscar said. “I couldn’t just stand there, and I couldn’t run away again. You have to defend what’s important to you, and fighting is the only way we can get the experience we’ll need if Belarus is ever going to change for the better.”

Putin Lukashenko December 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (L) enter the hall during their joint press conference at the Palace of Independence, on December 19, 2022 in Minsk, Belarus. Since his disputed re-election in 2020, Lukashenko has become increasingly dependent on Moscow’s political and economic support.CONTRIBUTOR/GETTY IMAGES

Oscar’s comrades-in-arms in attendance at the exhibition opening agreed.

“After Ukraine’s victory, Lukashenko must be prosecuted as a war criminal along with Putin,” Dzianis, who also fled Belarus after being beaten in police custody during the 2020 protests, told Newsweek. “Lukashenko didn’t just repress his own people; he also allowed the Russian aggressors to use his territory as their launching point towards Bucha, and he must bear responsibility for that.”

“I was in Bucha immediately after the liberation,” he explained. “I also fought in Bakhmut for months, and I don’t know which place was worse. They were both the worst things I’ve ever seen.”

It is not only the opposition-minded young men of Belarus who have taken up the Ukrainian cause. Among them, also dressed in camouflage, was a tall, broad-shouldered young woman going by the nom de guerre “Dasha,” whose specialty on the front is the use of rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

“Russia stole my home, and now it was trying to steal my neighbor’s home,” she told Newsweek, “and I had to do whatever I could to stop them from succeeding.”

“We cannot get rid of Lukashenko without first getting rid of Putin, which means that I cannot return to my home until after we have succeeded in defeating Russia in Ukraine,” Dasha explained. “In Belarus, there is the death penalty for those who fight for Ukraine. Usually, they do not execute women, but in my case they would probably make an exception.”

While there is no official count as to the number of Belarusians who have given their lives on the battlefield thus far in the conflict, at least 37 from among the International Legion’s all-Belarusian units have been killed. While the Lukashenko regime in Minsk continues to provide material support to the Russian war effort, opposition figures in exile seek to spread the message that a large part of the Belarusian people themselves are against Vladimir Putin’s war.

“It’s important for Ukrainians, and also for Europeans, to understand that larger numbers of Belarusians are putting their lives on the line in defense of democratic values, to defend the security of Europe itself,” Aliaksei Frantzkevich, head of the Belarusian Crisis Center in Lviv and the organizer of the exhibition at the city’s “Budinok Voina” communal space, told Newsweek.

“Belarusains have been fighting against Russian aggression in Ukraine since 2014,” he continued. “Mikhail Zhiznevsky, a Belarusian citizen, was one of the first protesters to be killed in the Maidan Revolution, and many more died while fighting on the Ukrainian side in the Donbas over the next eight years.”

Zhiznevsky is among the fallen commemorated in the Lviv exhibition, which in the coming months will travel to Warsaw, Vilnius, and Prague.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t publicly honor all of our fellow countrymen who have given their lives for democracy,” Frantzkevich explained. “Many of them still have relatives living in Belarus, and those people could be persecuted if it became known that their son or nephew had been fighting for Ukraine.”

“Someday though, all of our guys who died here will have streets and squares named after them in a free Belarus,” he added.


  1. “It’s important for Ukrainians, and also for Europeans, to understand that larger numbers of Belarusians are putting their lives on the line in defense of democratic values, to defend the security of Europe itself,”

    Here’s to all the brave Belarusians fighting for Ukraine, against mafia land, against loony, and for Belarus!

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