Belarusian volunteers have been helping Ukrainians since the first day of the war. Whether they are looking for finance, equipment, enlightenment or directly involved in the defense of Ukrainian cities and fighting with the Russian army. What drives you, what is your motivation?
Belarusians were terribly afraid that the friendship between Belarusians and Ukrainians would end there.
“The problem is not Lukashenko, but the Russian world.” Belarusians fight alongside Ukrainians against a common enemy
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We have friends and relatives in Ukraine, but rockets are now flying from our territory into Ukraine. This is why it is important that the Belarusians get involved in the defense of Ukraine in order to show them that we are on their side. It helps us not to feel guilty towards Ukrainians. It’s like therapy for us.
There are already hundreds of Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine. How are they organized and where do they operate?
Some Belarusians have been fighting in the Ukrainian army in the Donbass for eight years. Belarusians are involved in territorial defense throughout Ukraine. The most visible is “Kastus Kalinovsky’s Bation”, it was a volunteer unit, which is now a new part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Within the Foreign Legion proclaimed by President Zelenský, the Belarusian regiment Pahoňa is formed (Pahoňa is a Belarusian national symbol, it is a representation of a knight with a drawn sword on a white horse. In 1918 and 1991-1995, it was an official state symbol, it is currently used by the anti-Lukashenko opposition – editor’s note. red.) There is also a police unit in Odessa, other Belarusians are part of the defense of Mariupol in the Azov regiment.
So, will Belarusians have their own national division in the Foreign Legion?
It’s like that. People from many countries are fighting in Ukraine, but they don’t need to form a national group, I mean people from America or South Korea. On the contrary, we Belarusians need it. Our country is occupied, ruled by a dictator whom we rejected in the elections, and we also have a Russian army.
Kirill Zakimovitch (41)
Fifteen years ago, he and his family left Belarus for political reasons. He ran an army store in the Czech Republic and currently earns his living as a mountain guide. Together with friends, he founded the Prague Support Team, which attempts to provide quality equipment to Belarusian volunteers, who are already fighting alongside Ukrainians against the Russian occupation forces.
The Pahoňa regiment could be the core of the new Belarusian army. We are like Czechoslovak legionnaires, overall, the Czechoslovak legions are our inspiration: they fought for a state that did not yet exist, but they believed it would emerge.
You act as the “Prague Support Team” on Facebook, i.e. the support team for Prague. Who is behind all this and what exactly is your support for Belarusian volunteers?
The core is made up of five people, I am the speaker. Now we are dealing with military equipment and we have to laugh when we remember that our first “appearance” was when we ordered mobile toilets in front of the Belarusian embassy in Prague during the August 2020 elections. There had a line of about four hundred people who came to vote, and they deliberately let them through one by one.
We have been helping since the first day of the war. At that time, we were approached by acquaintances from Ukraine who knew that I had some experience with military goods. I ran an army shop ten years ago, I’ve had contacts ever since. At the very beginning, we bought plates for ballistic vests. We tested them – with military ammunition, not hunting or police ammunition, as some do – and sent them to Ukraine.
We are helped by a Czech company which provides us with facilities and monitors free of charge. Now we make the plates ourselves. We buy Swedish steel at wholesale prices, have it cut into sheets and add anti-splinter treatment.
Yes, it is very important. When you hit a vest without anti-splinter treatment, the splinters cut your neck. Unfortunately, it turned out that there are a lot of people in the Czech Republic who want to make money from the war. When a Ukrainian comes here to buy plates, there are Czech companies that sell twice as much as the Czechs.
We have also come across plates that have no anti-fragment treatment or are non-functional. This is a problem, because now somewhere in Ukraine there are boys who wear it and don’t know it.
Your ballistic vests are part of what you call a “Prague set”. Can you tell us what it is?
It is a set where there are about sixty things ranging from ballistic protection to spare socks. The volunteer will get it before the borders in Poland and we don’t have to worry about him anymore. We will collect one hundred for one thousand euros. We’ve done twenty and now we aim to assemble another hundred.
Many people try to help Ukrainians, shop on their own, for example, in army stores, and send them to Ukraine. Is it a good idea to buy something that I think will be useful?
It is better to send money. Most people are unaware of this type of product. He then buys police vests, which do not protect against army rounds, or mountaineering helmets, which are expensive, but it is something other than a ballistic helmet.
You have already mentioned cooperation with Czech companies. How’s it going?
Now we have added mats and sleeping bags to our set, which we did not pay for, as they were gifts from Czech outdoor companies. Then there is another Czech company that offers full-time free medical courses for us. It is very valuable. There is a demand for special military first aid kits. There are other things in them than in “civilians”, and whoever gets them must know how to use all these things.
There is a need for decompression needle for pneumothorax (air penetration into the chest, for example, in the event of a gunshot wound – note. red.). When someone tells me they need this first aid kit, I show them the needle and ask them if they know what it is. When he tells me he doesn’t know, he doesn’t need her.
Let’s move on to logistics. Is it difficult to coordinate all the requests and deliver what is needed to the right place?
Our task is to constantly find out who has what or not. It was a big mess, but it’s getting better. It is essential for us to get what we really need, in the right amount, in the right place. We don’t want to do what some people do, they buy things and just ‘throw’ them across the border and that’s it.
We gather the requirements and then we have to decide what to send, because we’re going to meet the request for ten thermal images, but we only have two. He communicates better with someone, less well with someone. Then someone will call us and say: send us everything you have. But that’s not how it works. It’s also because there are a lot of people with no experience.
So the biggest hurdle is sorting it all out? Someone without any combat experience can’t even imagine what he might need.
We must distribute fairly and efficiently. For example, someone wants thermal imaging, but they don’t even have proper footwear. At the beginning of the war, people went there without preparation, without preparation, without experience. They have the enthusiasm, they want to contribute.
But while an American, a veteran with x years of experience, comes with his own advanced equipment and continues to give to others, Belarus often has nothing because he left Belarus with a backpack and doesn’t have a lot of money.
Activists block the transport of goods to Russia. A column of 40 kilometers forms on the Polish-Belarusian border
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A person who has good equipment, who has good insulation at night, is not going to get wet, because he has a raincoat and so on, he works differently from someone who is freezing and has not changed his socks since one week. Then there are no clothes sitting there, no fitted. But the Ukrainians cannot send them anywhere like that.
The material we are talking about is quite often sold out, unavailable. How do you handle this?
We try to connect Belarusian diasporas around the world. Now Belarusians from Italy and France have called us… The American diaspora helps us a lot. They have everything in the USA and it’s cheap. The biggest problem then is crossing the ocean.
Do the Russians help you too?
Yes, they are Russians who live all over the world, send us money or give us information when there is something available in their country that is missing here.
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