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Belarus Weekly: Kastus Kalinouski regiment suffers losses, Ukraine again at center of Belarus’ domestic agenda

by Maria Yeryoma July 8, 2022 12:55 PM 6 min read
Belarusian activists hold placards with pictures of political prisoners during a protest on Aug. 8, 2021, in London. Belarusians gathered at Parliament Square to draw attention to the disregard for human rights and politically motivated prosecutions in the county. (Getty Images)
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The Kyiv Independent is continuing to provide readers with a weekly roundup to help explain current events in Belarus. To receive the Belarus Weekly newsletter subscribe via this LINK.

Ukraine was again at the center of Belarus’ domestic agenda.

Belarus' Independence Day was marred by allegations from the country’s dictator Alexander Lukashenko that Ukraine’s military was attempting to strike military facilities in Belarus.

In the battle for Lysychansk, Luhansk Oblast, the Belarusian Kastus Kalinouski regiment, fighting for Ukraine, suffered significant losses. The commander of the regiment’s Volat Battalion was killed, at least one fighter was captured, and several members are missing.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus says the country has been plunged into an “atmosphere of repression and fear.” This statement is supported by the recent addition of political prisoner Sergei Tsikhanousky, among other activists, to the Belarusian KGB’s list of “terrorists” and individuals guilty of “treason.”

Authorities detained a Belarusian volunteer organizing an event supporting children of Ukrainian refugees in Belarus’ Homiel region, citing “provocation.”

Belarus decided to repay its Eurobond debts in Belarusian rubles, following a similar decision by Russia. While it has managed to fulfill its obligations thus far, Belarus may be on the verge of defaulting in Feb. 2023.

Lukashenko claims Ukraine tried to strike military facilities in Belarus

On July 2, in an address on the eve of Belarus’ Independence Day, Lukashenko accused Ukrainian forces of trying to strike military facilities in Belarus. Lukashenko claimed that Belarusian Pantsir air defense systems intercepted the alleged attack.

Lukashenko also reiterated his claims that the West is attempting to drag Belarus into Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, again pledging Belarus’ allegiance to Russia.

BYPOL, an association of exiled former Belarusian law enforcement officials, denied Lukashenko’s claims that Ukraine attacked Belarus with missiles.

The association noted that, even if the allegations were true, the air defense systems at Belarus’ disposal would not have been able to intercept the Ukrainian “Tochka” missiles that would be capable of such a strike. Moreover, the interception of these missiles would have generated a blast visible and audible from a vast distance.

Lukashenko’s allegations may be considered another justification for his regime to drag Belarus into directly participating in Russia’s war.

In March, he stated that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was necessary as "Ukraine has been preparing to attack Belarus." Lukashenko followed up this statement by promising to retaliate should Ukraine launch missiles at Belarus.

Meanwhile, his regime has fabricated numerous accusations and false flag operations accusing Ukraine of attacking Belarusian territory. Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said on July 1 that Belarus’ latest claims of attacks by Ukraine’s military are part of a “grand campaign of disinformation by Lukashenko and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

As of July 4, Ukrainian officials have not yet observed signs that Belarus’ military is forming offensive groups.

Belarusian regiment commander killed in action

On June 26, Ivan “Brest” Marchuk, the commander of the Volat battalion within the Belarusian Kastus Kalinouski regiment fighting for Ukraine, was killed in the battle for Lysychansk, Luhansk Oblast.

According to a statement issued by the regiment, a small group of Belarusian fighters held back the advance of a column of tanks and facilitated the retreat of Ukrainian forces.

Several Belarusian fighters are reportedly missing and at least one has been captured. Should the captured fighter be handed back to Belarus in a prisoner exchange, they would almost certainly face persecution and face the death penalty for participation in a foreign war.

As of June, Ukrainians have signed a petition calling for the issuance of Ukrainian citizenship to foreign volunteers fighting for Ukraine, allowing them the same level of protection. The petition has received over 26,000 votes thus far, passing the threshold at which the petition can be addressed by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

A photo of Ivan “Brest” Marchuk, the commander of the Volat battalion within the Belarusian Kastus Kalinouski regiment, killed in action near Lysychansk, Luhansk Oblast on June 26. (Ivan Marchuk / Facebook)

Over 1,500 Belarusian nationals are fighting against Russia, with the Kastus Kalinouski regiment currently the largest group among them. The Pahonya regiment, another Belarusian volunteer group, took an oath on June 27 to become a part of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

Belarus to pay Eurobond debts in Belarusian rubles

As Belarus edges towards potential default, it will reportedly fulfill its obligations on Eurobond repayments in Belarusian rubles, according to Belarus’ government. Payment in Belarus rubles may result in technical default.

Belarus’ government states that this decision was “forced” given the refusal of foreign banks to transfer funds paid by Belarus’ Finance Ministry.

According to a senior researcher at the Belarusian BEROC think tank, Dzmitry Kruk, Belarus has managed to fulfill its obligations thus far.

Cumulative Belarusian Eurobonds debt is $ 2,5 billion. The next significant installments are scheduled for August and February. Previously Russia had announced its decision to pay the debt in Russian Roubles and encountered technical default.

Rumors of mobilization in Belarus debunked

Hundreds of Belarusian citizens, especially in the southern Homiel region of Belarus, received subpoenas to military enlistment offices in late June. These reports triggered rumors in Ukrainian media about impending mobilization in Belarus.

However, the subpoenas appear to have been calls to join mobilization drills, which are reportedly standard in Belarus. According to Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry’s Intelligence Directorate, the drills are routine and there is no direct threat to Ukraine from Belarus’ military.

Belarusian railway saboteurs brought to trial, may face capital punishment

The first trials held for Belarusian railway saboteurs took place on June 29, according to Belarus’ Investigative Committee. The individuals undergoing trial may face capital punishment.

Three Belarusian nationals, Dzmitry Ravich, Aleh Malchanau, and Dzianis Dzikun, are alleged to have participated in disrupting Russian movements via Belarusian railroads on March 1. They have been charged by the Belarusian court with terrorism and treason. Relatives of those charged say Ravich, Malchanau, and Dzikun have been tortured and beaten after being detained.

Belarusian attorneys suggest that the Investigative Committee’s threat to inflict the death penalty is illegal, as the law was only introduced on May 29 and is not retroactive. Other charges laid on the accused may sentence them to up to 15 years in prison.

At the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Belarusian activists attempted to disrupt the transit of Russian supplies and personnel toward Ukraine. The activists’ actions are said to have thwarted the Russian attack through Belarus’ territory.

UN Special Rapporteur: Belarus plunged into atmosphere of ‘repression and fear’

In a report for the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 29, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Anaïs Marin, detailed the progressive toughening of legislation limiting the freedom of assembly, broadening the application of capital punishment, and non-transparent referendum processes in the country.

Marin concluded that “systematic persecution, intimidation, harassment and the use of criminal and administrative charges in an attempt to suppress civic activism, freedom of the media and participation in public affairs” have effectively devastated Belarus.

Belarusian KGB labels Siarhei Tsikhanouskiy ‘terrorist’

Belarus’ KGB added 23 names to its list of “terrorists” and “terrorist organizations” on June 28. Among those listed is Siarhei Tsikhanouskiy, a prominent Belarusian activist and husband of Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Tsikhanouskiy tried to participate in the country's 2020 presidential elections but was arrested when he started gathering signatures to support his candidacy. Tsikhanouskiy was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who decided to fill in for her husband, lost an election marked by widespread fraud. Independent reports suggest she would have won a fair count.

Ihar Losik, a freelance writer for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the author of a Telegram channel that was the mouthpiece for political protests in 2020, was also sentenced in the same case to 16 years in a penal colony. Losik is now labeled a “terrorist” in Belarus.

Labeling current inmates as terrorists deprives them of financial support, which is then dubbed “financing terrorism.” The new label may also serve as grounds for additional charges punishable by death, as per the new capital punishment legislation.

Convicted journalist receives new treason charges months before end of sentence

Journalist and political prisoner Katerina Andreyeva, already serving a two-year sentence for live streaming during a political protest in 2020, stood trial on July 4 at a Homiel regional court.

In April, Andreyeva had five months remaining of her original sentence when she was transferred to a pre-trial detention facility facing new charges. In June, it was announced that she is charged with treason, which can amount to 15 years in prison.

Ukraine arrests 315 rail cars containing Russian, Belarusian mineral fertilizers

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office reported the arrest of 315 Russian and Belarusian rail cars carrying mineral fertilizers. The statement says the rail cars were brought into Ukraine in “violation of Ukraine’s customs legislation.” The seized property is estimated to be worth over Hr 350 million ($11.5 million).

Ukrainian authorities previously seized 188 Belarusian rail cars carrying mineral fertilizers in Mykolaiv and $20 million worth of property from Belarusian oil companies in May.

Belarusian volunteer arrested for holding event for children of Ukrainian refugees

Belarusian police arrested a Belarusian volunteer on June 28 in Homiel for organizing an event a few days prior for the children of Ukrainian refugees.

Alla Karalenka, one of the event’s organizers, was sentenced to seven days of administrative arrest for violating rules forbidding mass gatherings and events. Participants of the event were asked to bring handmade doves signifying peace. Belarusian authorities intervened for “fear of provocation and political slogans.”

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