Ukrainian forces have built a new line of defenses along the country’s previously unfortified northern border Belarus Amidst signs of another attack.
Russian forces invaded Ukraine They crossed the Belarusian border in February when they tried to capture the capital, Kyiv.
On May 10, the commander of the Belarusian army, Viktor Golevich, announced the deployment of Belarusian special forces and equipment in response to what he called a “southern threat” from Ukraine and NATO. Belarus has been conducting military exercises on its border with Ukraine since early May.
Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, was Russia’s closest ally in its war in Ukraine. On Tuesday, Lukashenko urged the Russian-led military coalition, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which met in Moscow, to remain united on Ukraine and accused the West of prolonging the conflict.
The Guardian was allowed access to Ukrainian border posts on the condition that the exact locations or surnames of Ukrainians serving in the service not be disclosed.
In the forests along the Belarusian border, a Ukrainian territorial defense unit made up of fighters between the ages of 19 and 60, operates a network of trenches and positions established since the invasion in February.
Before February, much of Ukraine’s border with Belarus consisted of small, kiosk-like checkpoints that Russian tanks easily penetrated. Two days after the invasion, Ukraine closed all its border crossings with Belarus and Russia.
In its analysis of the threat from Belarus, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said last week that the presence of Belarusian forces on the border would likely prevent Ukraine from deploying support operations on the Donbass front.
Armed with AK47s and a few dozen men per position, the fighters hope the invading forces will never again use the Belarusian border.
“We will be in the pan,” said Vova, a man who volunteered to fight in the Donbass in 2014 and was in the Soviet army. Vova signed up to fight alongside his brother, Ihor, and his nephew, Maxim, on the second day of the war.
“They took the first 500 men on the queue that day, but there were more than 800 of us,” said Ihor, seated between his brother and son in the makeshift barracks near the border.
“I have high blood pressure, high blood pressure, and take insulin,” Ehor said, pointing across the room at middle-aged and retirement-aged men. “And then the other part of the unit is guys like Maxim.”
Ihor and Maxim were working on a construction site in Kyiv on the morning of the invasion. They rushed back to the Zhytomyr region, where their family lives, to register. Territorial defense units in Ukraine are made up of people who fight in the same area in which they live.
The men and a few women in the unit said that some of them knew each other before the war. In almost every other case, there are only a few degrees of separation.
“In some cases, it was like, ‘Ah, your grandmother knows my grandfather, maybe we are brothers,'” Ehor said, adding that the fighting between people from his area gave him a great sense of duty and motivation. Weekdays at 7 am GMT
The unit said it did not have the support of heavy artillery units, but was fortunate to have a local geography on its side. The miles-long narrow roads that lead down from the border are surrounded by thick forests covering deep ground and swamps.
“No one has managed to hold this land for this reason,” said Ihor, the unit’s military press secretary, speaking of the battles around the northern frontier during World War II.