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  • Borislav Ivanov

Bulgarian Parliamentary Candidate Is Too Busy Fighting In Ukraine To Campaign

Bulgarian politicians are crisscrossing the Balkan nation of around 7 million people to persuade voters to cast ballots for them in snap parliamentary elections planned for October 2.

But one contender, Ivan Kalchev, is not on the campaign trail, but rather on the Ukrainian battlefield.

Kalchev arrived in Ukraine in early March to join the foreign legion established by Kyiv, just a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his forces into Ukraine on February 24.

Kalchev informed reporters that he is currently participating in Ukraine's counteroffensive. "Everything was really well planned and coordinated, and there is nothing accidental about the achievements," Kalchev said, adding that life on the battlefield isn't how it's portrayed in movies.

Ukraine's much-anticipated offensive, which started earlier this month, not only struck a blow to Russia's military but also gave Ukrainians optimism amid a dramatic shift in momentum.

Kalchev has been astounded by the joyous response of Ukrainians in liberated towns and villages. "With excitement, pride, and tears in my eyes, I simply see how happy these people are to be liberated," Kalchev said from an unidentified location.

Shortly after Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine in February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called to foreigners eager to aid in defending Ukraine and join the defense of Europe.

The government even set up a website for people to join the foreign brigade, which is now estimated to number in the thousands, according to one recent estimate.

Fighting for major reforms

While Kalchev assists Ukraine in reclaiming its territory from invading Russian soldiers, lawmakers at home compete for votes.

Bulgaria, a member of the European Union and NATO, will conduct early parliamentary elections on October 2, the fourth such election in less than two years, amid widespread political unrest.

Kiril Petkov's reformist administration collapsed last June, shortly after one of its coalition members resigned. Petkov, the leader of the We Continue the Change (PP) party, which took office in November 2021, has struggled to keep his promise to eradicate corruption.

He has also supported Ukraine in its struggle against Russia in a nation that has historically been sympathetic toward Moscow.

Petkov sacked Defense Minister Stefan Yanev for refusing to call Russia's incursion a war. He also expelled 70 Russian diplomatic personnel in June, accusing them of acting against Sofia's interests.

From a talented student to a soldier

Kalchev was an outstanding student in Sofia, graduating with honors from the National High School of Natural Sciences before going on to study physics and computer technology at university.

He befriended Vladimir Yonchev, the creator and editor in chief of the OffNews website in eighth grade, who has stated that Kalchev was "one of the brightest people he knows." Yonchev claimed he also studied physics, computer science, and politics in addition to riding his motorbike and melting metal in a special furnace he constructed himself.

Yonchev also remembers Kalchev's political zeal, which drove him to join the Green Movement party in 2013, eventually ascending through its highest ranks. Members of Bulgaria's ecologically oriented Green Movement were at the forefront of anti-government demonstrations that rocked the country in 2020-21.

But, despite his remarkable history, Kalchev lacked one thing, particularly considering his present location and occupation: military training. In reality, Kalchev claimed to have gotten his first training barely a week before departing for Ukraine.

Kalchev saw little combat action in the early months of the conflict. Instead, he performed a variety of activities, including interpreting (he speaks English), troubleshooting (ensuring the Starlink Internet satellite connection was operational), and even evacuating the injured, as he said in an interview with OffNews in late June.

That all changed immediately after Ukraine's military started its counteroffensive, mostly in the country's northeast.

This month, Russian forces suffered a shocking defeat when Ukrainian soldiers launched a fast armored assault with special forces in Kharkiv's northeastern sector, forcing a sometimes hurried and chaotic Russian retreat.

On September 14, Zelenskiy said that his forces had reclaimed around 8,000 square kilometers.

It was Ukraine's fastest advance since forcing Russian soldiers out of Kyiv in March, and some observers believe it has reversed the tide of the seven-month war.

Modern combat, according to Kalchev, has nothing in common with how it is portrayed in Hollywood films, with the bulk of the time spent doing nothing but waiting.

All of that changed quickly as the counteroffensive began, and sleep became substantially shorter, often as little as two hours per night, according to Kalchev.

Despite the hardships of war, the attitude of residents in liberated cities and villages has encouraged him. “People have gone to the streets in every community we've freed, generally on one major street that goes through the village. They come outdoors, waving flags and balloons, beaming at us and waving at every military vehicle that goes by”.

Certain dangers, including mines and unexploded artillery rounds, remain in freed areas, according to Kalchev.

Kalchev is a Green Movement candidate and a member of the Democratic Bulgarian coalition, a reformist alliance founded in 2018. "Our votes will be a litmus test for how important geopolitics is to our people," Kalchev added.

The alliance is pro-Western and urges Bulgaria to take a stronger position in favor of Ukraine.

Kalchev, taking the lead from Ukraine, said in a recent Facebook post that "Bulgaria's counteroffensive starts on October 2. Vote!"

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