Ukraine is stepping up defenses on the Belarusian-Russian border

Ukraine is stepping up defenses on the Belarusian-Russian border


Crouching on his hidden vantage point at the edge of the forest, a Ukrainian border guard watches the horizon as far as the border with Russia and Belarus, just a few kilometers to the north.

In pouring rain and low clouds, no Russian drones will fly over its remote outpost in northern Ukraine, the last ones before the border.

With a monocular in hand and a balaclava showing only his eyes, the guard proudly displays his NLAW anti-tank missile launcher.

“Our main goal is to prevent a (new) invasion. But if this happens again, we’ll be ready to stop the enemy at the border and prevent them from getting in,” says the 33-year-old, who doesn’t give his name.

The Senkivka border crossing is very close. A three-way junction in the shape of a “Y” pointing northwest to Belarus and northeast to Russia, with Ukraine to the south.

This is where Russia’s 90th Armored Division stormed in when the war began on February 24, cutting through Ukrainian territory like a knife through butter.

From there, the Russian army reached the gates of the capital of the Chernihiv region, some 90 kilometers to the south.

But they could never take the city, although it was regularly bombed, despite being repulsed by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

In early April, the Russians withdrew from the north, only to refocus on the campaign in eastern and southern Ukraine.

– “Growing Threat” –

Since then, Ukraine has been watching Senkivka and the almost 900-kilometer-long border with Belarus, whose territory served as a retreat for the Moscow armed forces, with eagle eyes.

On October 20, Ukraine’s military said the threat of another offensive from the north was “growing,” citing increased “aggressive rhetoric” from its northern neighbors, who are close allies.

A few days earlier, Minsk had announced that up to 9,000 Russian soldiers and about 170 tanks would be deployed to Belarus as part of a joint task force to secure its borders.

“If you want peace, you must prepare for war,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on October 10, accusing Ukraine of planning “strike strikes” against his country.

So far, Minsk has not taken part in the fighting in Ukraine.

In the well-fortified dugout set up after the Russian withdrawal in April, a border guard in his 30s, nicknamed “Lynx,” says he believes there’s a “50-50 chance” for a new Russian offensive are.

“Here on the border, the probability of an attack is always high with a neighbor like that,” he says, a machine gun slung over his shoulder.

“You can hear (Russian) artillery fire all the time here… sometimes it’s quiet, but since the beginning of autumn the enemy has become more active,” he says.

But now “there are more (Ukrainian) positions and more fortifications, everything is more serious now… we thought through all possible options to avoid repeating what happened before,” he points out.

– ‘Friendly Nations’ –

About 30 kilometers to the south is Gorodnia, the first town to be occupied by the Russians on the first morning of the invasion.

Mayor Andriy Bogdan told AFP he hopes the February 24 events “do not repeat themselves” even if such a threat “exists,” citing Russian troops in Belarus.

But now the situation is “completely different” than it was when his town of 21,000 inhabitants was “almost completely defenseless” before the war.

“We rely on our border guards and all of our defense forces. Today they are here and ready to fight,” says Bogdan.

When the Russians showed up, local residents resisted peacefully, he says, proudly showing a video of locals with Ukrainian flags standing in front of the armored vehicles to stop them from advancing.

In the end, the Russians stayed outside the city as they occupied the area.

Grocery store owner Svetlana, a woman in her 50s, dismisses the idea “that Belarus could attack us.”

“We live on the border, we are friendly nations. I have a brother in Belarus and a sister in Moscow,” she told AFP.

“In the beginning, even my sister couldn’t believe it happened. But they understand and support us,” she said.

“I want it to be over as soon as possible.”

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