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Belarus holding military drills on border with traumatised northern Ukraine

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By Analise Borges
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Russia-Ukraine war
Russia-Ukraine war   -   Copyright  Euronews

Belarus has announced it will be holding military exercises near the border with Ukraine, in turn putting Ukrainian authorities on high alert about the possibility of a fresh wave of attacks.

Officially, Belarusian forces have not joined Russia’s so-called “military operation” against Ukraine. But the government did allow the territory to be used as a launchpad for Russia to send thousands of troops across the border to invade on February 24, and in the weeks that followed.

Western intelligence has also warned Russia could be envisaging a renewed push from the north. The city of Chernihiv, 70km from the Belarus border, was besieged by Russian troops for a month at the start of the war and has seen new artillery attacks in recent days.

Thibaut Bettini, a Belgian volunteer helping local authorities restore water distribution in the area, told Euronews he had been told to leave the region last week.

"I was informed," he said, "that a possible second attack was imminent, and that for my security, I needed to go back home."

Bettini spent a total of three weeks in the north of Ukraine and saw for himself how local infrastructure had been wrecked by the conflict. 

"We saw pumping stations damaged," he said, "water reservoirs damaged, all the pipe networks damaged... The city centre was more or less spared, but the suburbs were not." 

He went on: "The first few days were extremely difficult, especially the very first day I arrived. We had to go through small parallel roads, through small villages. And shortly before Chernihiv, maybe 20 or 30 km before Chernihiv there's a village that is called Kiyenka... There used to be. It no longer exists. There used to be some 300 houses and it was completely wiped off the map."

On the bus, he said, soldiers told him not to look out the window. "I should have listened to them," he said, describing "bodies along the road" and buildings "burned and destroyed".

Back on the border, Belarus's embattled president Alexander Lukashenko has ordered the creation of a new military command unit for the south of the country. 

The Belarusian military drills are scheduled to begin on June 22. Russia has not said whether it will take part in the exercises.