Some Belarusians want to fight Russians in Ukraine. They also hope to free their country from Putin’s grip

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This unit from a Russian ally is training to join Ukraine’s army

In a wooded area on the Polish side of the Poland-Ukraine border, men dressed in crisp, clean, camouflage are given tourniquets. They kneel on the muddy ground and start to learn basic survival training.They call themselves the Pohonia Battalion, a group of fewer than 30 Belarusian exiles living mostly in Poland and other countries across Europe, who hope to join hundreds of their compatriots already involved in the battle for Ukraine.The aspiring volunteer fighters say that in order to free their country of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grip, he must first be defeated in Ukraine.

At an undisclosed location in Poland, the Pohonia Battalion trains with Kalashnikov replicas.The group, whose ages range from 19 to 60, carry Kalashnikov replicas. Almost none have fighting experience.

Among them is a professional poker player, a rock musician and an electrician.They are led by dissident and restaurateur Vadim Prokopiev. “We see a window of opportunity,” Prokopiev told CNN on Monday.”I made the call for Belarusians to join the battle for Ukraine because that’s step one before step two, which is the battle for Belarus.”

Most of the members, including Prokopiev, were forced to flee their country in 2020, when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko — a Kremlin-backed, Putin ally — cracked down on a mass protest movement after he claimed victory in a widely disputed election, which was marred by fraud.”If Ukraine loses this war, Belarus will have zero chance to get free,” Prokopiev said. “If Ukraine wins this war that means Putin’s hands are too busy and he’s too weakened and he won’t be supporting Lukashenko with resources.”