May 28, 2023

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Belarusian teenager voluntarily enlists in Ukrainian army: ‘Our freedom depends on the situation there’

A Belarusian teenager enlisted in the Ukrainian army to fight against the Russians.

The 18-year-old who volunteered to fight the Russians revealed he “lost a lot of friends” and was injured, but has no regrets, according to

Belarusian-born teenager Gleb Gunko left the front lines in Ukraine with shrapnel in his legs, constant nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder, but he has no regrets about volunteering to fight the Russians.

“I wanted to stay, but the doctor said no. I lost many friends there. And my commander,” he declared.

The Minsk native is among the Beralus men who – unlike their Kremlin-aligned leader – have chosen to put their lives on the line to defend Ukraine.

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“Before the war I thought I was at peace with the fact that death is death and everyone dies eventually. But it was too much,” the young man told AFP.

Gunko said in early March, on the day he left to go to war, that he volunteered to “fight for Ukraine, but also for Belarus.

“Because our freedom also depends on the situation there,” he said at the time.

Gunko left his homeland in 2020 after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko launched a fierce crackdown on opponents.

The leader, who has been in power for decades, has since drawn international condemnation for actively supporting and enabling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Even though he opposes the regime in Minsk, Gunko said he still feels responsible as a Belarusian citizen for what is happening.

“I am to blame for the fact that missiles are fired at Kiev from Belarus. I feel guilty about that,” he said.

“I could have done more,” he added of his four-month stint in Ukraine, which ended in July.

Gunko entered the war through the Belarusian House Foundation in Warsaw, which helps Belarusian volunteers go to Ukraine to fight.

After arriving in Ukraine, Gunko received two weeks of military training. He then fought alongside other international volunteers in Kyiv, as well as in the trenches around Kherson.

He said he saw many dead civilians in the Kiev suburb of Bucha, where hundreds of bodies were discovered after the Russian army was driven out in March.

“I was driving and I saw kids at a bus stop… A kid is waving, smiling, and I see right next to a person lying there with no head,” Gunko said.

“It was hard,” he added.

The young man recalled other traumatic moments when he was trapped for hours under a Russian BMP-3 combat vehicle, shrapnel from an explosion still lodged in his limbs.

Perceptibly thinner and weaker than when he left for war, Gunko recounted his experiences on a park bench in Grojec, the town just south of Warsaw, where he has been living a quiet life since returning in July.

“The military makes you a better person,” said the teenager, who wore his combat fatigues for the interview.

“I’ve changed, yes. Everyone says so. I am calm. I think a lot,” he added.

“It’s just like war. I watch people, I wait to see what happens. And I guess I expect it to be bad, he added.

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