The leader of a group of Belarusian exiles found hanged in Ukraine; police open murder case
- Vitaly Shishov disappeared after going out for a run
- Probe for possible murder staged to look like suicide
- Group of exiles helped Belarusians find jobs and legal advice
- Chichov felt under surveillance since he fled Belarus
- Belarusians abroad cannot feel safe – opposition figure
KYIV, Aug 3 (Reuters) – A Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine was found hanged Tuesday morning in a park near his home in Kiev, and Ukrainian police have launched a murder investigation.
Vitaly Shishov, who ran a Kiev-based organization helping Belarusians fleeing persecution, was reported missing by his partner on Monday after failing to return home after a run.
Police said they were considering the possibility of a suicide or staged murder to pass as suicide. Shishov had been found with abrasions on his nose and knee, but it was too early to determine whether he had been attacked, Ukraine’s national police chief Ihor Klymenko said at a briefing.
Shishov, 26, had felt under constant surveillance since leaving Belarus last year after participating in anti-government protests, his colleagues said. He had been warned against possible threats, including being kidnapped or killed.
Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become havens for Belarusians in a security crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko following a contested election last year. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and opposition figures are either in prison or living abroad.
“It is worrying that those fleeing Belarus still cannot be safe,” exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Twitter ahead of a meeting in London with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. She said death could be a crime.
Speaking to Reuters on Tuesday, she said a non-violent transition to democracy from Lukashenko’s “hell” was possible in the former Soviet republic. “When we put enough pressure on the regime, there will be no other way out.” Read more
Chichov’s death was reported by the official Belarusian news agency Belta, but authorities in Minsk have not commented. Lukashenko’s spokesperson could not be reached.
In May, a dissident journalist Roman Protasevich was arrested by Belarusian security forces after his flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Minsk. This week, a Belarusian athlete fled to the Polish embassy in Tokyo after refusing her team’s order to return home after the Olympics. Read more
The United States will closely follow the Ukrainian authorities’ investigation into Chichov’s cause of death, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the ongoing violent repression against Belarusian civil society and the transnational repression carried out by the Lukashenko regime,” Price told reporters.
Sound the alarm
Shishov led the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) group, which helps Belarusians find housing, employment and legal advice. Neighboring Ukraine has become a haven for Belarusians fleeing Lukashenko’s crackdown.
“We have also been repeatedly warned by local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus against all kinds of provocations, including kidnappings and liquidations,” a BDU statement said. “Vitaly treated these warnings with stoicism and humor.”
Ihor, 24, an exiled Belarusian compatriot who had known Shishov since last October, told Reuters that Shishov knew he was under surveillance, recounting cases where his car was followed or his girlfriend was approached by strangers then that they were organizing demonstrations in Kiev.
“The Lukashenko regime is at war, and it is at war. It is at war against anyone who can offer resistance,” said Ihor, who gave only his first name.
Ukrainian police chief Klymenko said Shichov did not inform the police of his suspicions of being under surveillance, and the police were not aware of any foreign agents tracking him down.
Shishov’s organization had announced a day earlier that he had disappeared. Shishov had left his residence at 9:00 a.m. (06:00 GMT) and was supposed to have returned an hour later.
Belarusian authorities have branded the anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and have called the actions of their own law enforcement appropriate and necessary.
“The death takes place amid an unacceptable Belarusian crackdown on civil society, and we look forward to a full and thorough investigation by the Ukrainian authorities to establish its causes and circumstances,” said the US embassy in Kiev.
Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Margaryta Chornokondratenko, Ilya Zhegulev and Sergiy Karazy in Kiev and Emma Thomasson in Geneva; Additional reports by Doyinsola Oladipo and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Written by Matthias Williams Editing by Andrew Heavens, Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and David Gregorio
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.