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Teachers, plumbers and builders among Ukraine’s volunteer soldiers preparing for worst on Belarus border

A territorial defense unit is prepping for the worst in the wooded and snow-covered swamps along Ukraine’s 621-mile border to Belarus.

The 100th Brigade is mainly made up of volunteers, including teachers, plumbers and builders. They enlisted to defend the Volynska region from another Russian invasion.

The 100th Brigade has protected 124 miles of land. It is now littered by anti-tank mines, and it is marked with watch posts.

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“This is the highest,” Captain Vasyl Sydorchuk (a deputy commander of unit), says from the top his newly constructed hill fortress, which is covered in snow.

“Everything can be observed from this point: the crossroads. You can use machine guns, grenade launchers and grenade blasters – everything is possible.

A village in the north of Captain Sydorchuk’s hill is where northern Ukrainians have lived for many generations.

Reports of an imminent invasion by the border crossing their homes have shaken them. Many of the people are relatives who live only 12 miles from their homes on the other side.

“We lived together. The country was home to half of our family members. There was a place I used to live, work and play. Oksana Trufanova, a resident, says that she has relatives there and visits them often.

“Some believe us, others don’t.”

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Nadia Andreya and Svetlana live just across the road from Oksana. Nadia, 75, has lived in the border village all her life.

“I am not leaving, and I don’t want to flee my country. Where are you going? She says she is 75 years old and that the beasts want us to leave our land.

“Let them die by themselves, or let God destroy them.”

After witnessing the atrocities in other parts Ukraine, her daughter is deeply concerned.

Svetlana says, “After Bucha – after what those monsters did there, I thought many times that it would have been better if a rocket hit me here than to see what they do to Ukrainian citizens.”

Image Nadia Andreya and her daughter Svetlana

Just a little further down, the road that runs through their village leads to a lake which stretches across the border. The last Ukrainian outpost is on one side. A green Belarusian watchtower can be seen on the other.

After the announcement of a joint regional military unit last October, Russian President Putin held a combined mass training operation.

In February, Russia invaded Ukraine at the Belarusian border. Top Ukrainian defense officials raised alarm about a possible invasion from the north.

The Ukrainians insist this time that they are fully prepared.

From Captain Sydorchuk’s hill fortress, you can hear explosions.

He says, “Don’t worry.” “That’s from our guys.”

A few kilometres away, the blasts are coming in from a location. These blasts are part of a daily simulation exercise the 100th Brigade conducts to prepare for a possible new front at their doorstep.

A tank is parked in a valley that faces the top of a hill. It is behind a pick-up truck that looks like a tank. Behind it are two winter-colored soldiers who are manning an anti-aircraft gun of 50 calibre. Soldiers carrying Kalashnikovs weave their way through pyrotechnics in front of the tank.

Captain Sydorchuk says, “We have enough personnel and ammunition.”

“We are available to meet them.”


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