Last April, we reported a story about Belarusian saboteurs crippling the supply lines of Ukraine. Today, another group of Belarusians is fighting Russian forces in Ukraine not just for the Ukrainians’ freedom but also for their own motherland. A battalion of Belarusian fighters named the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion is risking their lives on the battlefields of Ukraine as they fight not only against Russian President Vladimir Putin but also against Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe that sits along the northern border of Ukraine. Its current administration, which has been in power for over 28 years, is deeply tied with Moscow and Putin. As a result of poor governance, the country is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Pavel Kulazhanka, one of the fighters, has been fighting to overthrow the Belarusian dictator for over a decade. It began as simple protests by dissidents. Soon enough, their actions became more radical. They started sabotaging train lines and bombing military fixtures.

Eventually, his actions forced him to flee his home country of Belarus. Kulazhanka found himself starting a new life in New York City, where he became a cage fighter. Despite being thousands of miles away from home, his sights never left having a free Belarus.

“Life is about leaps of faith,” Kulazhanka said in an interview in the western suburbs of the Kyiv region.

“Fighting Lukashenko was one. Fleeing Belarus was another. Throwing away my life in America was one more. And fighting here, we are making the biggest one of all.”

Members of the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion (Kastus Kalinouski Battalion Facebook). Source:
Members of the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion (Kastus Kalinouski Battalion Facebook)

Today, Kulazhanka is one of the hundreds of Belarusian fighters that took up arms to help Ukraine fight against Russia. He believes that this war might be the opportunity to finally defeat Putin and ultimately topple the Moscow-backed dictator, Lukashenko.

Many of Kulazhanka’s fellow fighters have joined the “Kastus Kalinouski Battalion,” whose name was taken from the leader of the Belarusian insurrection against imperial Russia in the 1860s. These people are taking advantage of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “foreign legion” initiative, wherein foreigners will be allowed to serve in the ranks of the country’s military.

Around 200 members of Kastus Kalinouski are currently serving on the frontlines of Ukraine. This includes some of the previous hotspots in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv. Recently, Ukrainian forces have established control in the region after weeks of heavy fighting.

These people rely on funding and donations from sponsors, usually from Belarusian and Ukrainian ex-pats. However, recent developments in the Russo-Ukrainian war saw these fighters receive military equipment from the Ukrainian military and members of NATO.

Many fighters of the battalion were previously arrested during protests against Lukashenko’s 2020 election win, which many believed was manipulated. Recruiters say that they have received thousands of requests to join their cause and that the problem now is accommodating all of them.

“Several thousand more have applied to join us through our online recruitment tool,” said Vadim Kabanchuk of the Kastus Kalinouski battalion.

Not all Belarusians who have applied to join the battalion will be accepted by the recruiters. Given the inherent danger of the group’s mission, recruits face a strict vetting process to weed out possible security threats.

“Many of the thousands who applied will be rejected after in-person interviews at the Belarusian recruitment center in the Polish capital, Warsaw, which acts as a first-stage filtration hub for potential fighters,” Kabanchuk said. “Others will be rejected as unsuitable after they arrive to the battalion bases.”

A senior adviser to the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya named Franak Viacorka said that the contributions made by the Kalinouski battalion on the battlefield are “credible.” He described the group as the largest and arguably the “best organized” volunteer fighter group that came out of Belarus. He added that the Kalinouski had earned the right to bear the Belarusian flag and the coat of arms.

Unsurprisingly, fighting a war in a foreign country comes with surmountable risks. In an unfortunate report earlier this week, the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion announced the death of their company commander Pavel “Volat,” who perished in action.

“Today, our Battalion suffered a huge loss,” the group wrote in a Facebook post.

“During the operation to liberate the Ukrainian village from the Russian occupants, the commander of the company, a warrior of our Battalion Paval “Volat” was mortally wounded. In critical condition, they tried to take him to the hospital but failed,” they added.

Kastus Kalinouski Battalion Commander Pavel "Volat" (Hanna Liubakova). Source:
Kastus Kalinouski Battalion Commander Pavel “Volat” (Hanna Liubakova/Twitter)

“‘Volat’ was a true warrior-legend: he was wounded many times, but every time Paul cheated death – and every time returned in line.”

“‘Volat didn’t really like to be photographed, so there were not many photos or videos left after him. But the memory remained. Memory of those whom he saved in battles, who owe his courage their lives. The memory of the warriors of his mouth in which he was the rod and the heart. In memory of those he protected.”