Against a backdrop of new propaganda – with Belarus as a central theme – there remains a tense calm at the border between the Russian ally and Ukraine.

In Belarus, which is tightly controlled by dictator Alexander Lukashenko, several military leaders have, in the past few weeks, made statements alleging movement of NATO and Ukrainian troops toward the Belarusian border – breaking a virtual silence observed by Belarusian officials over the past year.

Kyiv Post visited the Ukrainian-Belarusian border in the Chernihiv region to investigate the current situation there. And much has changed since the spring of 2022. 

Lukashenko’s place in the orbit of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has somewhat receded recently, amidst Russian rapprochement with China and increased arms supplies to Russia from the rogue state, North Korea.

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However, one shouldn’t forget that Belarus has been Russia’s main military ally for decades – providing Moscow with use of its territory as a launching point for the invasion of the Kyiv region in the spring of 2022.

Without the participation of Belarus, there would have been no Russian offensive on Kyiv, no destruction in Irpin, and no Bucha massacre.

Kyiv Post stood at the remnants of the bridge directly opposite the Belarusian side. The bridge, just south of the town of Slavutych, was blown up in the early morning on Feb. 24, 2022 – the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

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Both Minsk and Beijing said the training was scheduled a long ago and the China’s force projection to the Atlantic Alliance’s eastern frontier was peaceful and not provocative.

Before that, it was a highly active point of crossing for Belarusians and Ukrainians over the Dnipro River.

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The Ukrainian border guard said that here, by blowing up the bridge, they succeeded in preventing a Russian offensive on Chernihiv region from the west.

“We have 100 percent of the state border section now mined, and since April 2022, engineering fortifications, anti-tank and anti-transport ditches, mine-explosive barriers, traps, and forest rubble are being created,” Oleh, a state border service officer told Kyiv Post.

His people have built and continue to build defensive structures: mines, anti-tank moats, barbed wire barriers, as well as secret positions for guards.

Some of the Ukrainian border guards said that Belarusians – who are close to Ukrainians linguistically and culturally – disappointed them by allowing the Russians to use their country as a launchpad for a strike on Ukraine.

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As Oleh puts it, the Belarusian border guards seem ashamed.

“On the other side, we periodically observe border guards of the Republic of Belarus who carry out patrols using boats and foot patrols; we also observe their fortifications, not on the same scale as we have. When they see that we see them, they try to disappear from view,” he said.

Now it’s “quiet” enough that you can go right up to the bank of the Dnipro – the river separating the two countries – without wearing a helmet.

But locals say that the Russian invasion dealt a serious blow to the riverine villages.

“Our people say that they stopped communicating with their relatives there because they (Belarusians) just don't understand the terror that’s happening here. When we were friends, we went across the river by boat, went across the bridge, went to pick berries, went to shops. They came to us. We went to them. Now it’s all stopped,” says Valentina Derkach, who heads the village of Dniprovske,

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“There’s no contact with them. What are you talking about?” said one local, Mykola, agreeing.

Mykola and others go on with their lives, taking advantage of the lull. But they avoid communication with the Belarusian border guard.

Mykola thinks that the Belarusian border guard would shoot first and ask questions later: “Their border guard is not the same as in our country. No one will try to communicate with you,” he said.

As for the Ukrainian border guard, they say they haven’t been seeing signs of Belarusian or Russian military activity on the other side of the river.

“As of today, we’ve recorded no military groups and no large-scale preparatory work…We are watching them. They are watching us. There are no provocations as of now,” Oleh said.

What is the reason for this mutually tense neutrality?

One reason is obvious. While no missiles are flying from Belarus to Ukraine, Ukraine, in turn, is not striking, for example, at Belarusian oil refineries, as it does Russian ones.

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“I hope, Batka [Lukashenko] is not such a fool as that senile fool [Putin],” Mykola said.

Belarusian opposition politician Tetiana Martynova said that the unspoken truce is beneficial for Lukashenko’s unstable regime. It can somewhat maintain its status quo by not delivering on 100 percent of Putin’s wishes – especially after the Belarusian military saw the losses inflicted on the Russian army in Ukraine.

“Everything fits into the logic of Lukashenko,” Martynova said. “On Feb. 24, missiles flew at us from Belarus. Did we have a chance to strike back? No. And he knew it. But now there is, and he knows it. The Belarusian siloviki [security bloc] can only fight against civilians – but not against civilians and people with firearms. And Lukashenko knows what the mood is in the army. He knows that if he throws his troops into war, it will be the last day of his power.”

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At the same time, Ukraine is not anxious to retaliate against the Russian ally’s 2022 actions and risk opening up another front. After all, the border of Ukraine with Belarus is more than 1,000 kilometers long.

“The front line in the north is a very big burden for Ukraine. And a much bigger problem. Ukraine and its officials are acting wisely,” Martynova said.

Today, the Ukrainian-Belarusian border region is quiet – but tense. Many areas remain mined. Strolling around near the border and gathering mushrooms is now a memory – something which can be upsetting for locals.

“This all greatly affects the psychological state of people. People have become more withdrawn, apprehensive,” Derkach said.

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