Here’s a story of a Belarusian volunteer from Kalinovsky’s regiment.
Kastus Kalinowski’s regiment: “We will come to Belarus!”
The “Kastus Kalinowski” regiment comprises all sorts of folks: from blue collars and entrepreneurs to politicians and journalists. They are all Belarusians who went to war of their own free will to risk their lives defending neighbouring Ukraine.
What compels these men, from young university graduates to life-wise fathers of families, to take up arms in the name of another country’s freedom?
“The desire for freedom for Belarus,” answers one of the fighters with a call sign “Lev” in a way that may seem paradoxical.
“Lev” is a son, a husband, a father, and an owner of a small construction company. He left his family, work, and home in Belarus and went to fight for Ukraine to liberate his homeland.
We spoke with “Lev”, one of the commanders of the military formation, about the reasons for his choice.
“Young guys, in their early 20s, are commanding fighters in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s.”
“Lev”, “Yaromir”, and “Oscar” are just a few soldiers of the Kalinowski regiment. Most of them hide their real names and faces. The reason is the danger of reprisals to relatives they left behind in Belarus from Lukashenka’s militia.
Many fighters of the “Kastus Kalinowski” regiment went through repressions themselves. All of them are civilians: farmers, teachers, and doctors, as my interlocutor says. Lev used to work in construction, and he was a small business owner.
“No one looks back at their former professions as civilians. Everyone here is on equal footing,” he says.
“And the military, of course, has its service hierarchy. And it happens that young guys who are a little over 20 command fighters over 30, 40 and even 50 years old and who, until recently, “commanded people” themselves. Such are the ways of the army.
“Many of these “older” guys already have military experience. Some came from Belarus and had been fighting in Ukraine since 2014. Naturally, if older fighters are put behind the appropriate commanders, they perceive this with dignity – as a matter of course.”
“The massacre of Belarusians, which began in 2020, became one of the triggers to go to war against Russia.”
“Some of us did not accept the onset of the “Russian world” and went to fight for Ukraine back in 2014. But for me, like most Belarusians, 2020 was a turning point”. This is how Lev explains his and other Kalinowski fighters’ decision to go to war.
This turning point was when the civil society attempted to change power in Belarus by constitutional means through presidential elections that were followed by repressions that do not stop today.
“These events broke and changed the fates of thousands of people, including mine. It is clear that this happened and is happening with the support of Russia, to which Lukashenka surrendered Belarus without a fight,” Lev assures us.
“And the reprisal against Belarusians that began in 2020 became one of the most important triggers to go to war against Russia – to defend Ukraine, and at the same time Belarus,” the fighter continues.
“Besides, the Kremlin has always had imperial appetites. Naturally, we do not want Russian occupation for ourselves, our children, or our relatives and friends in Belarus. It is necessary to end both the Russian empire and its predatory mode of existence.”
“Mom still thinks I work at a construction site in Poland.”
“The relatives reacted like this: what can you do? There are other people, why you need it more than others, and so on. This is true for many of my brothers in arms,” Lev recalls the reaction of his relatives to his decision to go to war.
To avoid upsetting his family, Lev invented a story for them.
“I told them that I went to a construction site in Poland to work there,” just before the departure, Lev told his wife and two friends the truth. One is his business partner, and the other is responsible for responding to “any outcome of the events” and acting accordingly.
If friends did not believe him initially, it was even more difficult with his wife.
“We didn’t have any quarrels and disputes, but I can’t say that she reacted to this very well. And my mother still does not know where I am. She thinks that I work at a construction site in Poland. I’m not going to tell her the truth, not because I want to deceive her, but simply to save her from unnecessary suffering. I do not think about death, but if there is an injury, I’ll let her know later. While I am here, she will write, call, and worry, which won’t do any good for her and me.
Some reached Ukraine by “forests, fields, and rivers.”
Going to war without exposing yourself, your family, and your loved ones is another “quest” for Belarusian volunteers.
After the outbreak of the war, it became impossible to travel directly to Ukraine. Belarusians need a visa to cross any border with a European country, and obtaining one in Belarus is complicated.
“In 2020, I was arrested, spent a day in jail and paid a fine. But this is what helped me get a humanitarian visa. Although, of course, it was risky to contact foreigners,” Lev says and continues.
“I was worried that KGB officers or similar services would be standing on the border with Poland and checking who was leaving and where. In this case, my “journey” would end there. Fortunately, everything worked out, and two days later, as part of a group of Belarusians, I left for Ukraine.”
However, according to the fighter, not everyone was so lucky. Some of his brothers-in-arms had to reach Ukraine directly by “forests, fields, and rivers.”
“We hate the Russian government and Russia’s attitude towards the whole world, and towards Belarus and Ukraine especially.”
“I went to Ukraine to join the Belarusian volunteers and our fighters who defend, among other things, the good name of the Belarusians,” Lev says.
There was a wave of accusations against Belarusians for “missiles that fly from the territory of Belarus.” Belarusians are considered complicit in co-aggression against Ukraine, in the view of some Ukrainians and even other European states.
“Many Ukrainians do not know that ordinary Belarusians, ordinary citizens, are against the war but do not have the slightest opportunity to influence the decisions of Lukashenka and his entourage. Ukrainians have no idea what a dictatorship is, what kind of regime is in Belarus and how to live in it,” he shares his impressions.
“And it was important for me to show that we are ready to give our lives for Ukraine and that we also hate the Russian government and Russia’s attitude towards the whole world, including Belarus and Ukraine. The Kremlin believes that our countries are their outskirts. Yes, they are separate countries, but only for a while, he says. Sooner or later, they will become Russia.”
According to Lev, neither he nor the guys from “Kalinowsky” saw any hostility from Ukrainians, either military or civilian.
“On the contrary, they even try to feed us, although we are 99% provided with everything we need. People still want to treat us with something: cookies or some homemade products. And many do not need explanations about who launches the missiles “that fly from the territory of Belarus.”
The guys from “Kalinowski” support Ukraine and Belarus ideologically.
The regiment “Kastus Kalinowski” is not the only military formation of Belarusians fighting in Ukraine. And Lev explains why he does not regret choosing to be among the guys from “Kalinowski”.
“99% of the guys here are here because they ideologically support Ukraine and Belarus and root for them; they came here for the sake of truth and justice.”
And this is one of the reasons why the military formation has become a second home for the fighter.
“Of course, we have far-from-home conditions, and it’s no picnic. For example, about 20 people live in one room. But when we are in a good mood, drinking tea, discussing something, or when someone is playing the guitar, I even feel uplifted,” Lev smiles.
The everyday life of the regiment in the absence of hostilities, according to him, is quite prosaic: morning drills, formation, breakfast, lunch and dinner, training – in combat, mining, medicine, and so on. The evening is free time.
The same is true for Sunday – a day off or a day to catch up on chores: the fighters go to the store, put their uniforms in order, and watch films.
“But often the guys are engaged in cleaning weapons or watching training videos about new weapons that we haven’t even held in our hands – we educate ourselves, so to speak,” Lev clarifies.
“Of course, I miss my family, my son… But the regiment is my home today.”
The main task is the liberation of Ukraine and Belarus from fascist Russia.
“The main task is the liberation of Ukraine from fascist Russia. And right after that, the liberation of Belarus from the same fascist Russia and the dictatorship in Belarus, from the illegitimate power of Lukashenka, which the Kremlin upholds, is our most important task,” says Lev.
Guys from “Kalinowski” have already paid dearly in their fight for freedom: the lives of six fellow Belarusians were lost in the battles.
“We take the loss of our brothers-in-arms very close to heart. They say that if you do not feel fear, then it is bad. But I did not feel fear; on the contrary: when you find out about the “arrival of a rocket”, it only causes hatred and a desire to fix everything. Neither panic nor hysteria; I also did not see any of my brothers-in-arms panicked or scared. But we have not reached the final goal, so we gather our will into a fist and move on,” the fighter sums up.
Our regiment, “Kastus Kalinovsky”, will come to Belarus.
“We do not consider ourselves heroes; we do what we think is necessary – we get rid of the dictatorships, both Russia and Belarusian, which everyone has been fed up with for a while now. The authorities left us no other choice. The authorities forced us to take this step – to join the war,” states Lev.
“At the same time, in Belarus, according to their propaganda, we are called mercenaries or terrorists. The illegitimate power is afraid of us and therefore attaches such labels to us.
Unfortunately, no independent media is left in Belarus, and there is no freedom of speech so that people can learn the truth about us and draw conclusions for themselves. But over time, they will connect the dots, and I believe that this time is coming,” the fighter continues and briefly talks about his near future.
“As for the future, I do not think about myself. I think about my son’s future so that he lives in the country for which I am fighting – a free, democratic, full-fledged participant in world politics.
The regiment “Kastus Kalinowsky” will come to Belarus, but not with banners, flags and beautiful speeches. But we will come with a different attribute in our hands and a different mode of action.
Belarus will be free, doubtless.
Live Belarus! Glory to Ukraine!”