By Sara Gómez Armas
Kovel, Ukraine, Mar 29 (EFE).- Ukraine’s border towns with Belarus, a long-standing Moscow ally, have prepared for an attack with anti-tank missiles at the ready, barricades blocking all access points and loaded rifles.
In the northwestern city of Kovel, just 70 kilometers from the Belarus border, a two-meter high barricade blocks the entrance to the town hall which is guarded by dozens of volunteer recruits under a sign that reads ‘glory to the heroes’.
“The Belarusian people do not want to fight against us, but (Vladimir) Putin and (Aleksandr) Lukashenko want something else. They are criminals used to killing dissidents and beating protesters,” says Alexander Jarkivski, a leader of the Aidar Battalion — a volunteer militia created in 2014 during the Donbas war.
THE ENEMY IS NEAR
Although Russian airstrikes have not reached the Volyn Oblast region, Russian tanks and planes have been stationed on the Belarus border and, according to Ukraine, missiles have been launched from the neighboring country, the latest one on Monday.
“We have fifty vans loaded with anti-tank weapons distributed on the three highways through which Kovel can be accessed from Belarus,” Jarkivski says while showing Efe the RPG7 missile launchers and AK-47 rifles Ukrainian forces are gathering should troops flood in from Belarus.
Jarkivski pulls out two grenades from the glove box, kisses them and laughs: “One for Putin and one for Lukashenko.”
The battalion that Jarkivski heads is made up of 50 volunteers with military experience and is on rotation in Kovel, having fought in Kyiv to help crush the advance of Russian troops towards the capital.
“Our strength is courage, along with Western weapons. These are the keys to the Ukrainian resistance,” Jarkivski, a professional poker player, adds.
Kovel mayor, Igor Chaika, is convinced “the border is well defended” and works hard to maintain a sense of normalcy in the city of 70,000 which has become a transit point for more than 15,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Europe. Of those, some 3,000 have stayed in Kovel.
“Belarus has ceded its territory to Putin to attack us. There is no doubt it is an enemy,” the mayor says from his office.
Chaika adds that although Belarusians are not hostile to Ukraine, they could get caught up “in the game of two dictators”.
Kovel is a key city that connects Ukraine with Poland via rail, and before the war, it also traveled to Belarus.
It is also the only line in Ukraine with the European standard gauge making it an essential entry point for humanitarian and military aid.
Due to its strategic importance, the mayor says a Belarusian attack “orchestrated by Russia” would seek to cut supply lines to Kyiv.
RURAL VOLYN OBLAST
Barely 30 kilometers from the border, in Smidyn, the only indication the nation is at war is the village’s empty streets.
But its 1,800 residents have not let their guard down.