“We will win in Ukraine, squeeze Lukashenko out and take power”: Belarusian volunteer fighting in the Ukrainian army

The future of the country will be decided by those who hold the sword, not European grants, says a volunteer of Azov.

Oleksiy, a Belarusian nationalist, came to fight for Ukraine right after the Maidan when he was only 20 years old. He joined the Azov regiment, received the callsign “Psychologist,” and carried out combat missions in eastern Ukraine. After the start of the full-scale war, Oleksiy and other Azov veterans defended the Kyiv region as part of a volunteer unit. In Bucha, “Psychologist” became surrounded and lost his leg. However, Oleksiy does not consider his injury critical.

In an interview with Telegraf, the soldier spoke about the first days of the defense of the Ukrainian capital, his rescue, and the plans of Belarusian nationalists to overthrow the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.

Oleksiy, back in 2015, you left Belarus and came to fight for Ukraine. What was your motivation?

I was inspired by the Maidan. Before the Maidan, I wasn’t particularly interested in Ukraine, and I didn’t have any acquaintances here. However, Lukashenko is the last dictator in Europe, and any political life in Belarus has been dead since the 2000s. Ukraine has always had political freedom, and I understood that if the last island of freedom falls, then changes won’t begin in Belarus. I believed that the time was historic, and I was simply obliged to take part in these events.

I didn’t go to the Maidan itself because I didn’t have any acquaintances in Ukraine, and any Belarusian who participated in the Maidan was immediately persecuted by the KGB. But when the war started and the annexation of Crimea occurred, I came to Ukraine as a volunteer in the Azov regiment. At that time, I was only 20 years old.

How were you received in Ukraine?

Initially, I ended up in a selective training camp created by Belarusians, completed the young soldier course, and stayed there working as an instructor while periodically carrying out combat missions in Donbas — where Azov was stationed. At the end of 2016, I left because there was no more war in Azov. The regiment had been moved to the second line of defense, and I wanted to fight. However, both I and other Belarusians were illegally present in the regiment. We had residency permits, but we couldn’t officially join the regiment because foreigners couldn’t be registered in the National Guard, to which Azov belongs.

Was it possible to stop being a foreigner and obtain Ukrainian citizenship? Did you not want to?

At first, I didn’t think about it. I came to Ukraine to fight. I was even surprised when they started paying a salary. However, Belarusian volunteers were not given Ukrainian citizenship. President Poroshenko, who was in power at the time, vetoed granting citizenship to all foreign volunteers.

Did you believe at the beginning of the full-scale offensive against Ukraine?

Any person capable of analyzing the situation understood that it was inevitable. The difference lay in everyone’s understanding of how this offensive would unfold. I thought that everything would happen in the east, where the main Russian forces were concentrated: cutting off our units, displacing us from Donetsk and Luhansk regions, followed by the annexation of these territories by Russia and the declaration of victory.

But the way events began to develop, of course, few people expected. From a logical point of view, it looks strange for a military man: such a small group to come in columns from eight directions, hoping to be greeted with flowers. But they did what they did. At the initial stage, we were lucky to fight with idiots.

Tell me about the defense of Kyiv in February-March. How was it?

In the first few days, we formed combat units with veterans from Azov and other volunteer units. Then we organized the defense of the region in various locations: Vasylkiv aerodrome, expecting tank columns to break through from the direction of Novi Petrivtsi. However, Kyiv was not adequately prepared for defense at that time. There were scattered groups and units, like in Hostomel, where cadets were fighting. The defense of Kyiv was a rather fragile entity.

So, was there a possibility that the capital wouldn’t withstand the pressure of Russian troops?

No, such a possibility did not exist. However, there was a risk of being trapped in urban battles directly in Kyiv, particularly in locations like Zhytomyrska and Sviatoshyn metro stations. Fierce fighting could have reached these areas if the bridges hadn’t been blown up in time and if the Irpin River hadn’t flooded.

Who was the Ukrainian enemy in the Kyiv region? Trained professionals or conscripts, some cadets?

No, such a notion is one of the Russian propaganda tactics. Russians have been fighting for many decades, and those who invaded Ukraine have experienced more than one war. It would be strange to label them as amateurs at the very least. In my battle in Bucha, we faced paratroopers and Special Rapid Response Unit — police special forces. They had modern weapons and equipment. However, there was a complete lack of equipment on our side in Bucha.

If they were professional soldiers, how do you respond to the question of why professional soldiers fought against civilians and did all the things they did in Bucha?

That’s war. Their enemies were not only Ukrainian soldiers but the entire population. Russians have been doing the same throughout their wars, and nothing has changed. They did the same in Georgia, but most people didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Tell me about the day when you were injured and lost your leg.

On March 3, our combat group was in the area of Hostomel and received the task to proceed to Bucha, establish contact with local units, and organize the defense. We met with adjacent units, which were not numerous: the 80th Airborne Assault Brigade and territorial defense units.

See also: How the concept of the “Russian world” came from Belarus to the border Ukrainian villages in February 2022

We had a light mobile infantry reconnaissance group, and our objective was to move to the front line of Bucha and identify Russia’s equipment, so that the command could decide what to do with it: engage in combat or call in artillery. We positioned ourselves in a local hotel-restaurant complex. We immediately halted the Russian column and opened artillery fire on them. However, another part of the column flanked us. Simultaneously, columns of Russian vehicles started entering Bucha from different directions. Our defensive units began to withdraw from Bucha, and it was our group that found itself surrounded. We opened fire on the vehicles flanking us. But then, heavy weapons, such as tanks located about a kilometer away from our positions, started targeting us. There was an explosion from a tank shell just five meters behind me. It threw me, and when I tried to lift myself, I saw that my leg was already gone. It was practically a clean cut through the center of my knee. Only fragments of skin and tendons remained.

There is a video circulating online that you recorded immediately after being wounded during the battle. Was that your way of saying goodbye to life?

Yes, I decided to record a farewell video. At that moment, it didn’t seem very likely that we would make it out of the encirclement. Besides, I had lost about three liters of blood, even though the tourniquet was applied fairly quickly. But luckily, things turned out differently.

When you confronted the new reality of living without a leg, did you experience depression?

No, not really. I have been in Ukraine for a long time, engaged in fighting. I knew what I was getting into and the risks involved. Besides, losing a leg is not such a great tragedy. There are far worse injuries one can sustain. For example, losing both legs.

Did you experience phantom pain as a problem?

Yes, phantom pain started on the third day. For about a month and a half, I was even on morphine, receiving injections three to four times a day. It was intense pain that was unbearable, driving me almost to madness. Later, as I began rehabilitation and prepared the stump for prosthetic fitting, the pain decreased. I stopped taking opioids, and after the prosthetic was installed, the pain subsided significantly.

Let’s talk about your homeland. In 2020, Belarus missed its chance. Is it final, or will there be another opportunity?

There will definitely be another opportunity. The fact that in 2020, Belarusians unexpectedly realized they were living under occupation is already a positive development. Many opened their eyes. I understood that we were living under occupation even during the transitional period, but for some, it came as a surprise.

The events in Ukraine have motivated numerous people to make a choice, to choose the country of freedom — Ukraine, to acquire the necessary knowledge and military experience in order to later influence the situation in Belarus after Putin’s regime falls. Everything depends on this regime. Our main slogan in Kalinowski’s regiment (currently, Oleksiy serves as an instructor in the regiment of Belarusian volunteers named after Kastus Kalinowski) is “Freedom for Belarus through the freedom of Ukraine.” One cannot be separated from the other. By winning the war in Ukraine and utilizing the opportunity, we will take control of Belarus and form a government with those individuals who have gone through this war and have become stronger as a result. We will squeeze out Lukashenko, who will end his rule after Russia’s defeat, and it’s not excluded that it will be with our help.

What did the protests in Belarus lack? Radicalization?

That’s not the issue. In order for the authoritarian regime, which had been strengthening for 27 years, to be overthrown, there needed to be a connection with leaders. The protest was disorganized and did not depend on the number of people taking to the streets. Only 10% of the total population of Belarus participated. It may seem like a huge number, but no one was leading these people, and many of our opposition members tried to make the protest peaceful, which was complete idiocy considering the people they were opposing. They were up against individuals who were ready to shoot into the crowd and create a Bloody Sunday on a massive scale. Lukashenko was fully prepared to do so, even if the protest had become radicalized. If the demonstrators had engaged in battles with the police, as was the case during the Maidan, they would have been shot and, most likely, would not have achieved their goals. Furthermore, all of our opposition leaders were either killed or expelled from the country by Lukashenko’s regime, losing any political influence they had. Disorganized protests in authoritarian countries lead to nothing.

Currently, there is a lot of information about Lukashenko’s health, with claims that it has significantly deteriorated. However, there is also an opinion that if Lukashenko were to die, Putin would immediately “swallow” Belarus, and the situation in Ukraine would worsen even further.

Such thoughts may come from those who know nothing about Belarus. In Belarus, it’s not just Lukashenko in power; his family is also involved. He has elder sons, one of whom controls the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the presidential security. In other words, the entire power vertical, which is maintained by the security forces, is not solely under Lukashenko’s control. Therefore, even if something were to happen to him, it is unlikely that Russia would dare to take such a step, considering the fact that they would face defeat.

Naturally, Russians want Belarus to be annexed, and they would like Lukashenko to support them by opening a second front. For Ukraine, it is certainly good that there is no second front at the moment. However, for us (Belarusian nationalists), it might not be a bad thing. We would have more potential recruits who would join our side. That’s why Lukashenko has not started a war. Additionally, the Belarusian army is a relatively weak structure, and many would immediately switch sides if given the opportunity.

And what about those who wouldn’t switch sides? Are there enough “vatniks” (a political pejorative used in Russia and other post-Soviet states for steadfast jingoistic followers of propaganda from the Russian government) in Belarus?

Well, of course. Belarus has a population of approximately 9 million people. Among them, there are about one million Russians who hold Belarusian passports but are ethnically Russian. This million-strong Russian population is unlikely to have a pro-European development vector. So, roughly speaking, one in ten people in Belarus could be considered a “vatnik”. Additionally, each of these “vatniks” influences the mindset of ordinary Belarusians, creating an aura of “vatniks” around them. However, it should be noted that the percentage of “vatniks” is not significant, and certainly not half of the population.

In a previous interview, you mentioned that the Belarusian opposition cannot offer anything and that no one expects anything from them. Why do you see the situation so pessimistically?

The leader of the Belarusian opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya hasn’t been able to articulate anything substantial all these years. She has provided some assistance, mainly humanitarian aid, but she cannot provide any weapons. Well, technically she could, but she choose not to. Moreover, this position is such that they have never been against Russia. We see them as political projects. These grant-seeking circles have existed since the arrival of Lukashenko. They perpetually milk money from European states, yet they have no practical impact. They are talkative figures incapable of achieving anything significant.

Doesn’t the example of Ukraine worry you? In Ukraine, after the Maidan, nationalists didn’t come to power. They were people who had been involved in politics for decades, and the military became a cover on party lists. Do you think the same can’t happen in Belarus? The country will free itself from Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime, and Tsikhanouskaya herself will come to power.

No. How can Tsikhanouskaya free anything when she doesn’t have any power behind her? Autocracy can only be challenged by force, and those who hold the sword will make the decisions, not European grants.

It’s not fair to compare Belarus with Ukraine. Ukraine is a free country, and its political life has always been vibrant. There hasn’t been the same level of pressure as in Belarus. It is simply the fault of nationalist forces that they couldn’t survive within this concept and offer something to the people. Now, after Ukraine’s victory, such forces have a chance.

Does it bother you as a military person that there are accusations that war is supposedly forgotten in Kyiv? Many people are in cafes and restaurants, concerts are taking place.

Do you think someone wants Kyiv to be destroyed? People give their lives, risk themselves, liberate territories precisely so that this life can exist. We are fighting for this so that people can live their normal, peaceful lives in cities. All rational military personnel understand this. It is our task to ensure the existence of peaceful cities, where the war is not felt.

Originally posted by Artur Hor on Telegraf. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Aleksandr Lukashenko is preparing for an attack: what threats is the Belarusian dictator capable of implementing

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