Some are ready to fight.
Ukraine should keep in mind the threat from Belarus. An offensive from the north is possible. Some forces and means can do it. If the self-proclaimed president Aliaksandr Lukashenka does not give the order, someone else will. Poland, Lithuania and Latvia should also think about their security. Vadzim Kabanchuk, deputy commander of the Belarusian regiment named after Kastus Kalinouski, part of the International Legion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told this in an interview with Gazeta.ua.
- At the beginning of the war, we had a small group of Belarusians. About 15-20 people. We were with the Azov battalion of territorial defence in Kyiv. We gathered on the first day. Then other guys joined us. We were authorized to form a Belarusian company. We saw the growth and agreed with the guys from Azov to be part of their battalion. The number of our volunteers was growing. We already saw we would become a separate battalion. We joined the Armed Forces.
Vadzim Kabanchuk is deputy commander of the Belarusian regiment named after Kastus Kalinouski. He was one of the first Belarusian political prisoners. He was born in Belarus. He lived there until 2014. He was one of the founders of the Zubr movement, the sports and patriotic organization Krai, a member of the Maladoga Front and the Belarusian Christian Democracy, an officially unregistered party. They advocate the return of national symbols (the white-red-white flag, the Pahonia coat of arms - Gazeta.ua) and the status of a single state Belarusian language. Kabanchuk has been repeatedly detained and arrested. The first time was in 1997 for participation in the March of Empty Pots. Then he spent about half a year in the detention center. He was sentenced to a suspended sentence. Later, he was repeatedly arrested.
- Do new volunteers join you?
- 99% of volunteers are Belarusians. The vast majority live in Europe. We work through our center in Warsaw. Now Ukraine gives us an opportunity to gain experience and become stronger. New people join us. It is not so active now, as at the beginning of the war. But we have a large diaspora that the Lukashenka regime pushed out of Belarus after 2020. They help us.
Our society is like a spring compressed for 28 years. There's no relief.
- Has the motivation of volunteers coming in after five months of war changed?
- I cannot say the reason why people go to war has drastically changed. There may be more motivated people who understand why they come here. The first stage is the fight for Ukraine, then Belarus follows.
Every society has a layer of passionaries who are ready for war. This is abnormal for an ordinary person. It's different for the passionaries, who have already been psychologically prepared for some things. Our society is like a spring, compressed for 28 years. There is no relief. Some people have accumulated so much over these years that self-preservation may not be so acute. Belarus has long been under dictatorship. I can't say that people have lived an ordinary life. Those who opposed the regime have constantly risked being arrested or beaten up. That's why there was a readiness.
- Singer Meryem Herasimenka, who sang in support of Ukraine the song of Ocean Elzy in the Belarusian capital, will be tried in Minsk
- Belarus has had repressions since 1996. Ukraine has little awareness of the situation there. When I came to Ukraine in 2014, I heard stories about good roads, sown fields, Lukashenka as a good manager. When I got married and lived in the Cherkasy region for the last two years, I didn't raise Belarusian topics with the peasants anymore. I used to say: "Why, if we have a paradise on earth in Belarus, do all your workers go to Poland and the Czech Republic and not to a Belarusian collective farm?"
There are more than five thousand political prisoners in Belarus now.
We now have a double occupation. The first is the regime of internal occupation, established by Lukashenka in 1996. Repressions have lasted all these years. Journalists, politicians, and other people came out with different protests and performances. They disappeared, were killed, jailed. There are more than five thousand political prisoners in Belarus now. Since 2020, repressions are equal to those of 1937. The second occupation is Putin's troops in Belarus.
- August 9 marks two years since Aliaksandr Lukashenka declared himself president of the country. There were the most massive protests in 2020. Why is the country silent now? What can make thousands of people come out against the regime?
- Nothing will make them come out to protest again. Why aren't they protesting in Donetsk? Or one didn't in Paris, which was occupied in 1941. What kind of protest could make the occupation administration get out of Paris? We have a double occupation. In 2020, we were very active in the protests, helping people with instructions. Then we analyzed everything. If we had removed Lukashenka, a large-scale war would have started in Belarus first. Because Putin then moved his troops to our borders. They were ready to enter the country. The time for flowers and balloons is long gone. Our infantile society woke up in 2020. People lined up at the polling stations naively believing they could change the government through elections. It is surreal for me. Belarusians now understand this is war. But they don't understand it's their war, too.
Lukashenka could only be overthrown by force. And people came out en masse. However, it was uncontrollable.
- In 2020, did you realize how all these protests would end?
- Yes. Only force could have overthrown Lukashenka. People came out en masse but everything was out of control. The so-called united candidate Tsikhanouskaya asked people three times not to take to the streets. And she stepped aside for a while. Russian political technologists might be wrong. There were several fraudulent candidates from the Kremlin who went to the elections. But the Belarusian society woke up and shook up everyone, first of all, the regime. A couple of hundred passionaries more were enough to set the tone. But Putin would not have given up on the situation. The reaction of the Belarusian army was a question. Some of them could have taken Putin's side. They could have covered themselves with the fact that Lukashenka would have asked him for help.
- What is the result of Lukashenka's 28 years in power?
- Korchinsky once compared Belarusian society to a terminally ill person. One lies in intensive care as if one is still alive. The heart beats, but one is already a plant. As one cannot speak and has no memory. The Belarusians have lost language and history. Before Lukashenka, there were 70 years of Soviet rule and 200 years of Russian occupation before that. Lukashenka's regime accomplished what had been done for centuries. There is not a single Belarusian language school or university, or flag in Belarus. He got cheap oil, gas and loans for it. He simply de-nationalized Belarus, turned it into a mankurt. Ukrainians ask, "Why don't you speak Belarusian?" We don't even have Donetsk and Lugansk. Children studied in Ukrainian schools until 2014. We didn't have that.
- There is a trend for young people and people who left Belarus to learn the language. Something is changing.
- For sure. Our nation has fully embraced our national flag and coat of arms. The whole country was wearing white-red-white flags in 2020. The same will happen to the language. It will be a chain spreading from kindergarten to state official. It could take decades. But the process has already begun.
- What future awaits Belarus in the current situation?
- A war against Ukraine. Lukashenka will either be forced by Putin to give the order for the ground army to enter the war, or Lukashenka will be removed and some other puppet will do it.
The Belarusian army has already purged "unreliable" officers. Now they're stuffing the troops with pro-Russian people.
- Under what conditions may this happen? What can make Lukashenka give such an order? May it be done without his approval?
- He may face such conditions that he won't have a chance to step back. Or he may receive a large loan. Or one can say he will receive a nuclear weapon, and then no one will touch him. Anything is possible. Lukashenka has already stated that Belarus will renew deliveries of nuclear arms. We have Soviet-style Belarusians, who long for it. An SDF fighter, who has trained for 10-15 years, wants to show his luck. Yes, "Bandar-logs." The media shows that the Russians are winning. The Belarusian army has already mopped up "unreliable" officers. Now they're stuffing the troops with pro-Russian people.
Lukashenka was forced to amend the constitution to make the head of the Security Council a formal leader in case he fails to fulfil his duties. It is now a general, an imperialist, who can give any order of Putin. Another interesting thing is aggression against citizens of other states. That is the military of the Russian Federation. They predicted the resistance against the occupants. So they intimidated the people for them to sit still. Belarus does not have any legal institutions. That is why everything they adopt is of no importance. If Lukashenka is overthrown tomorrow, we will not be able to hold elections. We have no legitimate Central Election Commission, no courts, no other bodies that remained not compromised. We should hold lustration first, and then the elections. Maybe our people won't want a president at all. And we will have a parliamentary republic.
The empire exploited the Belarusians, as well as the Ukrainians, as peripheral peoples for its own purposes
- I'm a normal person. I would like to live an ordinary life. But I understand that Russia won't let us live like that. If one does not stop them, such Bucha will happen again. One can see this from history, even from my own, from what happened to my family, my ancestors, who wanted to live and work on their land. These are your words from a recent interview. Do you want to go back home?
- I do my best for that. Return to Belarus is associated with the fact that Putin's regime should weaken so much so it could not interfere in our affairs militarily. We will cope with Lukashenka's regime ourselves.
The empire exploited the Belarusians, as well as the Ukrainians, as peripheral peoples for its own purposes. What did my great-great-grandfathers do in the Russian-Turkish War in the late 19th century? What were my great-grandfathers doing in World War I? Then, World War II happened due to two cannibalistic regimes. Belarus suffered terrible losses in those wars. We had a third, a fourth of our population simply disappearing. There should be about 30 million people in Belarus now. There are less than 10, thanks to crises and wars.
My grandfathers just wanted to live and work on their land, to have a horse. The Soviet authorities prohibited even that because it had been impossible to force people into collective farms.
- How is the attitude to you and your friends changing in Belarus? When will you be welcomed there?
- There is a stratum of society that does not and will not accept this government. It is already the majority of the population. The year 2020 proved it. They treat us well and help us. We save the honor of the Belarusian nation. The whole world witnessed that not all Belarusians let use their territory to launch missiles and lift airplanes. Some are ready to fight. If it were the will of Ukraine, we would build a powerful armed unit. At least at the level of a brigade, or maybe even more. Unfortunately, we have to operate within the units.
We have the death penalty. It all lasts for a while. At a certain point, people lose patience and dictatorships fall.
- It can change.
- We hope the political and military leadership will develop a clear strategy with respect to Belarus because now there are different groups of influence with different opinions. Right up to resuming trade with Lukashenka and so on. There are also contrary ones. The Lukashenka regime will come to an end when a full-scale invasion from Belarus begins. We will just have to fight it off. Then the regime will collapse. It will be a constant threat not only for Ukraine but also for Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. Before the war, we saw the attacks with the help of migrants. It was already the first phase of the war.
- There is another part of society that supports Lukashenka. Plus, the security forces, the army. Are they afraid of you? They opened cases against many Belarusians fighting in Ukraine.
- Yes, they do everything to disrupt this wave of Belarusians joining us. They mainly intimidate their loved ones. We have the death penalty. It all lasts for a while. At some point, people lose patience nuts, and dictatorships fall. The same will happen in Belarus. Two years ago, people proved their readiness for change. Today, we are minuscule in comparison with Lukashenka's militarized force. But if we plant the flag, then tens of thousands will join us. That is exactly why they are afraid of us.
Ukrainians benefit from fourth-generation warfare - when they can fight asymmetrically with drones and high-precision weapons
- You fought as a volunteer in 2014. How has the nature of the war changed?
- This is a powerful artillery war. It is advantageous for the Russian army to wage a World War II-type war with large fronts. To knock out Ukrainian heavy equipment and personnel. The Ukrainians benefit from a fourth-generation war - when it is possible to fight asymmetrically with drones, high-precision weapons. When it is not necessary to release a carload of shells. One guided one, which hits the target is enough. Airpower is used now. The frontline is much longer.
The maelstrom of war may draw other countries in. Belarus is already in. The time may come for Poland, Lithuania, other NATO countries as well.
- We have become stronger since then. Haven't we?
- Yes. But many mistakes were not fixed in Ukraine during this time. There was time to prepare for a powerful battle with Russia. It was clear to me that it would happen. Ukraine has failed to build an ammunition plant in eight years. The guys ran out of shells for artillery in 10-15 days. There were periods when the Ukrainian artillery was silent for weeks. The infantry was taking all the fire. It is clear what our losses were because of it.
Now we celebrate every village we fought back. How many territories surrendered during the first days?
The question is how they covered hundreds of kilometers in three days in the south. It is just a march. Who will be responsible for that? Now we celebrate every village we fought back. How many territories surrendered during the first days? The most combat-ready guys were surrounded in Mariupol.
As people, we became more united and strong. It's no secret that only one side will win. As long as the Russian empire exists, they will not leave us in peace.
- What does our victory depend on?
- Largely on weapons, modern equipment. There are a lot of Russians. They have a quantitative advantage in some positions by several times. However, we have more qualitative personnel, more motivated soldiers. We defend our interests. Since Ukraine failed to provide itself with modern armaments, we rely on the Land-Lease and our allies. Our counteroffensive and victory depend on supplies. Then we can alter the dynamic on the front and start a counteroffensive.