Vladimir Putin’s bid to make Ukraine part of a greater Russian empire is faltering, and the Kremlin boss is drawing in resources from allies as far afield as Syria and the Central African Republic to bolster his forces.
But even in Russia’s closest ally, Belarus, there has been resistance to joining Putin’s cause.
According to a report issued on Telegram, by the Ukrainian military command, a large number of Belarusian personnel and some commanders have “refused to participate in occupational operations” against Ukraine
Belarusians opposed to hardline pro-Russian president Aleksandr Lukashenko have left the country in their thousands – and many have ended up in Ukraine.
One of them, who gave his name as Gerard, explained why he was signing up to fight against Russia.
“Lukashenko’s regime took everything from me,” he told Al-Jazeera. “Ukraine has given me a new home, a new job, and a really good life.”
He’s now training as part of the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion formed by Belarusian volunteers to protect their new homeland. “I have to protect what is mine,” he says.
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Belarus was used as a springboard for the Russian invasion, with some of the armoured columns for the initial attack crossing the border into Ukraine after being stationed there on “military exercises”. There are reports, too, of Belarusian troops being ordered to change into Russian uniforms and join the fight.
But the war is unpopular among the Belarusian population, as it is with an increasing number of ordinary Russians.
Rosemary Thomas, a former British ambassador to the country, said that she was “not surprised” that Belarusian troops were refusing to get involved in Putin’s war.
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“Belarusian territory had [the] highest level of slaughter during WW2,” Ms Thomas tweeted. “They know what's it's about”.
She added: “Ordinary Belarusians sees Ukraine as a brother nation. They don't want war at all but especially not with Ukraine”.
There have been widespread reports of desertions among the Russian ranks, with Kyiv claiming that some 300 Russian troops had refused to obey orders in the Okhtyrka region of Sumy, near the northeast border with Russia, adding that they “left the area of operations”.
Victor Andrusiv, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, told the story of one Russian tank driver, named Misha, who had surrendered to the defenders.
“He didn’t see the point of war,” he said, adding “He could not return home because his commander told him he would shoot him dead and say he died in battle”.
Many of these deserters are crossing the border into Belarus rather than returning to Russia to face punishment, and as they tell their stories Belarusian resistance to the war will only grow.
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