I’ve recently had several opportunities to visit the border with Belarus as a journalist. . The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are currently bracing themselves for any potential Russian offensive, with Belarusian troops, all along Ukraine’s northwestern border, a heavily forested area full of forbidding wetlands, as well as the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.
Among the many interesting things to see was the wall being built in the north, along the border. In November, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, Zelensky’s deputy chief-of-staff at that time, wrote about it.
Beefing up positions and laying mines
Last week I managed to get to the Belarus border in the Zhytomyr region. There I reached the positions of the 115th Zhytomyr Defense Brigade, which was created during the first days of the full-scale invasion. There are practically no professional soldiers among them. Until Feb. 24, their jobs ranged from cooks to programmers to businessmen. Yet the men have been holding the defensive positions near the Belarusian border for seven months.
Recently they’ve built trenches and settlements all along the wetlands of the northern border. Numerous defense lines are kept here in case the enemy decides to advance from Belarus.
In addition to the wall and trenches, the entire border has been mined.
“Aren’t you tired?” I asked a soldier named Valeriy, who was standing at the post.
“Everyone is tired, but what can you do? More than tired, we miss our families. My wife, daughters and granddaughters are waiting for me in Zhytomyr. The younger one can’t even sleep without me. And now they won’t let us go home at all, because the tension has increased a lot. We have to stand at our positions, because who knows what the enemy is preparing for us,” Valery said.
His brother, call sign Santa, echoed his sentiments.
“It’s not just that we can’t go home. We’d like to be moved to other sectors, where today it’s difficult and we’re needed. But it’s important not to leave these borders either, as there can be a threat from here at any moment,” Santa says.
The soldiers showed us their camp. They even demonstrated how to mine the territory. As for the possibility of Russia going back on the offensive through this part of the border, they say that they are currently more than capable of dealing with the enemy. Every week they undergo military training, performing various tasks.
Training on the border
On the day we reach the 115th Zhytomyr Defense Brigade’s positions, they were taking a break from training. However, according to the commander of the AFU Joint Forces, Lt. Gen. Serhiy Nayev, similar training takes place every week, even several times a week along the entire border with Belarus, in all brigades.
We then went to see the 120th Vinnytsia Defense Brigade. They have been stationed in the Chernobyl zone for six months. This territory was occupied in the very first days of the full-scale invasion. As several high-ranking Ukrainian officers said earlier, this happened because no one expected an attack from the north. Now they are ready for it.
The military tries to simulate attacks. A mock tank battle took place before our eyes, and later the infantry practiced maneuvers. In general, training is different every time. Sometimes they take place in the field, sometimes in the city – for example, in deserted Pripyat – depending on the tasks.
In this brigade, like in the previous one we visited, almost no one has previous military experience. Tanker Vadim said that at first it was difficult because it was loud, but then he got used to it.
“I’m a tank driver. Everything worked out the first time. I’m familiar with technology. Moreover, I understand the responsibility. Because a tank is often used for offensive actions. And it’s the tank that can destroy manpower. By doing so, we help our brothers-in-arms,” Vadym said enthusiastically.
According to Lt. Gen. Nayev, training will continue.
“They already know everything. But there are no limits to perfection,” he added.
He also noted that the current situation on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border is calm. Nevertheless, you can expect all sorts of manipulations from the enemy.