A Belarusian activist has been found dead in a park in Ukraine as police launch an investigation into a possible murder disguised as suicide.
Vitaly Shishov, who led a Kiev-based organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution, had been reported missing by his partner on Monday after not returning home from a run.
Police said they had launched a criminal case for suspected murder but would investigate all possibilities including murder disguised as suicide.
‘Belarusian citizen Vitaly Shishov, who disappeared yesterday in Kyiv, was found hanged today in one of Kyiv’s parks, not far from his place of residence,’ the police statement said.
Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become havens for Belarusians during a crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko following a disputed election last year.
Shishov led the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) group, which helps Belarusians find accommodation, jobs and legal advice, according to its website.
The organisation said on Monday it was not able to contact Shishov. It said Shishov had left his residence at 9am and was supposed to have returned an hour later.
According to Belarusian journalist Tadeusz Giczan, Shishov’s friends say he was recently followed before he went missing.
The Belarusian authorities have characterised anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and described the actions of law enforcement agencies as adequate and necessary.
It comes after Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland after refusing to board a flight home from the Tokyo Olympics.
The 24-year-old was at the centre of a standoff at Tokyo’s main airport after she alleged she was being pressured into returning to Belarus by some of their team officials.
Tsimanouskaya had initially complained on social media about the decision to enter her in the women’s 4×400 metre relay, even though she had not trained for the event.
Tsimanouskaya’s husband, Arseniy Zdanevich has since fled Belarus and is currently in Kiev.
‘I didn’t think it would get this serious,’ he told Sky News. ‘I made the decision to leave without thinking twice.
‘We never had any connections, never supported the opposition. We’re just normal sports people, we’re just devoted to sports and we’re not interested in the opposition movement.’
Marcin Przydacz, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, told The Times that Tsimanouskaya was ‘under protection and in the territory of the Polish embassy, where she will remain as long as need be’.
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