Ihar Yankou enlisted as a volunteer on 24 February, the first day of the war in Ukraine. Now, the 26-year-old Belarusian, codename “Yankee”, is a commander of the international battalion of the Ukrainian armed forces. In-between combat assignments and training, he manages to maintain his social media accounts, where he shows soldiers’ everyday life during wartime.
Yankou left Belarus in September 2020, when the police started looking for him due to his participation in mass protests. He moved to Kyiv, got a job there, and even started taking part in jiu-jitsu tournaments. “Talks about war started about six months after I moved to Ukraine. At that point I started thinking about what to do if hostilities were to begin,” he recalls. “I already had friends, a job, a place to live in Kyiv. I felt it was my home, which meant I couldn’t abandon it and just had to defend it against the enemy.”
Through acquaintances, “Yankee” got into the volunteer battalion within Ukrainian armed forces, which included Ukrainians, Belarusians, and citizens of other countries. He quickly mastered military skills such as handling of a machine gun, although he had never served in the military. He emphasizes that as a commander he doesn’t give out orders beyond combat situations and doesn’t send people on missions: “The guys execute my commands directly in combat. But we’re all on an equal footing here. We make decisions together.”
The fighter says he got the idea of creating a video blog by accident: at first he made recordings from life during the war for himself, “so that if I survive, there will be a memory.” Then he uploaded some videos to TikTok, and they aroused great interest. He was interviewed by a Ukrainian blogger after heavy fighting in the village of Lukyanivka – “and that’s how it all got off the ground.”