In Ukraine, a man who goes by his military name Karabas is training to fight against the Russian army. But Karabas is not from Ukraine. He is from Russia.
Karabas was living in Moscow when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. He was shocked and very upset, and he decided to act.
He decided to find a way to get to Ukraine. There, he hoped to join troops fighting Russian forces.
It took him almost a year to make it happen.
Today, he is part of the Siberian Battalion, a group of Russians who have joined the Ukrainian military to fight against their own country. Its members come mostly from ethnic minorities from Russia’s far east.
They hope to someday help remove Russian President Vladimir Putin from power.
Karabas told The Associated Press that he was disappointed in the Russian people. He said he was upset that people were supporting Putin without thinking. And he was upset that they did not seem to care about the war.
“That is why I wanted to come here...and fight for a free Ukraine,” he added.
Unlike other volunteer units in Ukraine with Russian nationals, the Siberian Battalion is officially part of the Ukrainian army. To enter the unit, fighters must pass strict security checks. This process can take up to a year.
Karabas went to Armenia first. There, he met Ukrainians and learned to speak the Ukrainian language. Now, he refuses to speak Russian.
The Ukrainian army is training the Siberian Battalion and sending them to the front lines in eastern Ukraine. That area has seen some of the deadliest fighting of the war. Russian and Ukrainian forces continue to fight for control of it.
Fighters in the battalion from eastern Siberia hope a Ukrainian victory will weaken or change Russia’s control over their region. The area is among the poorest in Russia. People from the area’s Yakut and Buryat ethnic communities complain of racism and unfair use of power against them in Russia. This has made some activists call for independence.
Another Russian fighter, who goes by the name Holod, openly said he wants Putin’s administration removed from power.
“When this happens, we can talk about victory,” he said.
Karabas and other Russians left their entire lives behind, including families and friends.
Some from the battalion have already been sent near Avdiivka, a Ukraine-controlled city in the Donetsk region. The Russian military has been fighting to take control of the area.
The battalion was created six months ago. It has fewer than 100 members, but Ukrainian military leaders hope more will join. Based on applications they have received, they are aiming to have up to 300 members in the unit.
Karabas said there may be tens or hundreds of thousands of other Russians like him, willing to fight with Ukraine.
“I think we should have a lot more (Russian fighters),” he said.
I'm Andrew Smith.
Vasilisa Stepanenko wrote this story for The Associated Press. Andrew Smith adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
disappointed -adj. unhappy with a result or situation
region -n. an area of a country
application -n. a formal, written request to enter a program or organization or get permission to do something.