Enterprise-Record (Chico)

Along Ukraine-Belarus border, a war of nerves

- By Samya Kullab


>> The reconnaiss­ance drones fly several times a day from Ukrainian positions deep inside the thick forest that marches across the border into Belarus, a close Russian ally, scouring sky and land for signs of trouble on the other side.

Ukrainian units are monitoring the 1,000-kilometer (650-mile) frontier of marsh and woodland for a possible surprise offensive from the north, a repeat of the unsuccessf­ul Russian thrust toward Kyiv at the start of the war nearly a year ago.

This time the Ukrainians are taking no chances. Since the summer they have been reinforcin­g defenses, building and expanding trenches and laying mines in the forest ahead of the springtime offensive military officials expect. Residents of villages in the region that were temporaril­y occupied last year are horrified by the prospect of it all starting again.

“We’re listening out for every small sound and noise. This isn’t a way to live,” said Valentina Matveva, 64, from the village of Ripke. “When you’re in constant fear, that’s not life.”

Concerns of a renewed military push were stirred in January after Russia and Belarus held joint air force drills, one month after a rare visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Minsk.

Military experts and Western intelligen­ce have played down the possibilit­y of a renewed northern offensive. The British Defense Ministry tweeted on Jan. 11 that Russian aircraft and existing Russian troops in Belarus, though numerous, are “unlikely to constitute a credible offensive force.”

Belarusian officials attribute the troop deployment along the border to “strategic deterrence” according to local reports. The country’s authoritar­ian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has insisted he will not send troops to Ukraine.

But Ukrainian commanders are wary, rememberin­g how Russia used Belarus as a launching pad in early 2022.

“We continuous­ly monitor the enemy from the ground and observe the movement of troops, if they are moving, how many troops, and where they are moving,” the area’s army intelligen­ce unit head said during a press tour this week a few kilometers from the border. The officer only identified himself by his first name, Oleksandr, citing security reasons.

Unlike the east with its devastatin­g artillery duels, here in the north it’s largely a war of quadcopter­s.

Oleksandr said the Belarusian­s and Russians are “constantly monitoring our guard changes, trying to find our military’s positions.”

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