Belarusian dissident Vitaly Shishov was yesterday found hanged in a park close to where he lived in Ukraine, with police opening a murder probe and supporters accusing the regime of Alexander Lukashenko of killing the activist who helped his compatriots flee repression.
Shishov, 26, headed the Belarusian House in Ukraine, a non-governmental organisation involved in everything from helping fellow compatriots settle in Ukraine to staging anti-regime protests.
He went jogging in Kyiv on Monday morning but did not return and could not be reached on his mobile phone.
Belarus strongman Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has been cracking down on any form of dissent since mass protests erupted after last year’s elections, deemed unfair by the West.
Many Belarusians have fled, often to neighbouring Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.
“Vitaly Shishov, who had gone missing in Kyiv yesterday, was today found hanged in one of the Kyiv parks, not far from where he lived,” the police said in a statement.
The United Nations called on the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a “thorough, impartial and effective investigation”.
UN human rights spokeswoman Marta Hurtado told reporters in Geneva that “the situation (in Belarus) is deteriorating clearly”.
The US embassy in Kyiv said the death came “amid an unacceptable Belarusian crackdown on civil society” and also called on Ukraine to do a “complete and thorough investigation”.
Ukrainian police had earlier said a murder probe has been opened.
Igor Klymenko, head of the national police, told reporters that officers were pursuing two main leads: suicide and murder disguised as a suicide. He said the activist had scratches on his nose and body which were consistent with a fall.
An AFP journalist saw several police cars and dozens of officers at the scene, some carrying black bags.
Several hundred people rallied outside the Belarus embassy in Kyiv yesterday evening, many holding white and red flags associated with the Belarusian opposition.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine accused the Lukashenko regime of having murdered Shishov.
The NGO said that it had repeatedly received warnings about possible “provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation” and that Shishov had been followed.
The head of the Belarusian House in Warsaw, Ales Zarembiuk, told AFP he was “100% percent convinced” that Shishov was murdered in a bid to frighten the Belarusian diaspora, whose organisations supported last year’s protests. According to Zarembiuk, Shishov ran an account on Telegram that exposed KGB agents.
Zarembiuk — who said he never walks alone — said Belarusians are less safe in Ukraine than in neighbouring Poland because of its ongoing war with pro-Russia separatists.
“He may not have been killed by a KGB agent, but it was definitely on their orders.”
Belarus has a history of political killings and disappearances, and regime critics have claimed that the Belarusian security services run death squads that hunt down and target Lukashenko opponents.
Kyiv has been accused of not properly investigating the killing of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet in Kyiv in 2016, which has been linked by some of his associates to the Belarusian KGB.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was “closely following the findings of the police”, his spokesman Sergiy Nikiforov said.
Speaking to reporters after meeting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London yesterday, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the activist’s death was mostly likely due to criminal activity but she wanted to wait for the results of the police probe.
Last week, Lukashenko praised his security services in a speech in which he also slammed rights activists and called Tikhanovskaya a “nasty woman”.
The head of the KGB security service, Ivan Tertel, said that Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states had US-backed “centres for information and psychological operations” which they used to “isolate” Minsk.
Shishov’s death came as Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she was forced to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced repatriation for criticising her athletics federation. The sprinter, who was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland on Monday, said she feared being jailed if she returned to her country.
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