The Economist headline: Why a regiment of Belarusian dissidents is fighting for Ukraine
Subheadline: They see a common enemy in Vladimir Putin
The Russians were in front of them. The Russians were behind them. It was, says Aliaksandr Naukovich, as if “the war [were] saying ‘What the f*** are you doing here?’” His unit, a ragtag battalion of Belarusian dissidents, had lived a charmed existence until then, surviving four months of fighting with only a few casualties. But the news coming through was not good. The battalion’s charismatic leader, Ivan Marchuk, was dead following an operation to stop a Russian tank incursion near Lysychansk, in the Donbas region. Two men were in Russian captivity, three others missing in action.
Four months earlier, the 33-year-old former children’s entertainer had been living in Poland. He had fled there, like many fellow dissidents, after Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s despot, rigged a presidential election in 2020 and crushed the resulting protests by rounding up and torturing the protesters.
Mr Naukovich’s new life was comfortable and safe, if a bit boring. But the outbreak of war changed everything. Feelings of shame and guilt pulsed through him: Russian tanks, planes and missiles were swooping from his country into Ukraine, killing people—and only because men like him had been unable to drive Mr Lukashenko from office. Mr Naukovich had no military experience, but his instincts told him he should go. So he packed a rucksack and left for the border.