In Loutsk, the fear of a Belarusian attack

By Thomas of Istria

Posted yesterday at 2:45 p.m., updated yesterday at 8:26 p.m.

An armed man on the stairs, another in the corridors. The city of Lutsk is not yet affected by the fighting, but the office of the mayor, Igor Polishchuk, is well guarded. The news is not good. On Sunday March 20, the entourage of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, citing the military, spoke of the high risk of an attack on the region from Belarus, without specifying however whether it would involve Russian or Belarusian forces. While Belarusian territory, located 150 km to the north, has served as a rear base and launch zone for Russian missiles since the start of the conflict, the mayor does not want to believe “that the Belarusian army will attack. But we cannot completely exclude this possibility.”

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The day before, Saturday, all Belarusian diplomatic staff left Ukraine, raising fears of a possible military intervention. Igor Polishchuk says he is ready: “All entrances to the city are protected. We have enough soldiers. We will know how to fight. » But the city councilor of this city of just over 210,000 inhabitants has a preoccupied face. The west of the country, relatively spared during the first two weeks of the war, became the target of regular Russian bombardments. The Volhynia oblast (region) is a strategic territory for the delivery of humanitarian aid and arms from European countries transiting through Poland to the areas affected by the conflict.

Igor Polishchuk, mayor of Lutsk, in his office, Ukraine, March 17, 2022.
Refugees fleeing fighting in eastern Ukraine are housed in part of a shopping center on the outskirts of the city of Lutsk on March 17, 2022.

On Friday, airstrikes targeted for the first time the great city of Lviv, 150 km south of Lutsk, destroying an aircraft repair factory. A week earlier, the Lutsk military airport had also been the target of bombardments, killing four soldiers and wounding six others. On the first day of the war, February 24, airstrikes on this base had pushed “many citizens to leave the country”, says the mayor. The second burst has “terrified people, but we don’t see a wave of panic”.

Lukashenko, an obligated Moscow

The significant movements of the Belarusian armed forces towards the Ukrainian border, recorded in recent times, add to the concern. The Belarusian political crisis triggered by the controversial re-election of Alexander Lukashenko as the country’s president in August 2020 has upset the geopolitical balance in the region.

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Isolated on the international scene after having violently repressed the protest movement which demanded new elections, the leader sold off his sovereignty in exchange for Russian support. On several occasions, the latter assured that he will not intervene militarily, but can we believe the one who has become obligated to Moscow?

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