The director of an NGO that helps people fleeing Belarus was found hanged in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. His friends say he was being followed by “strangers”.
Ukrainian police said on Tuesday that the body of a Belarusian activist was found in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, a day after he was reported missing.
“Belarusian citizen Vitaly Shishov […],” police said in a statement was found hanged in a Kyiv park today, not far from his home.
Authorities said a murder investigation had been launched and that they were looking into all leads, including a possible “murder disguised as suicide”.
The 26-year-old was director of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU), an organization that helps Belarusians seeking to flee persecution. The organization helps them find accommodation, jobs and legal advice.
Ukraine, like Poland and Lithuania, has become a haven for Belarusians after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on dissidents in his country. Since last year’s disputed elections, Belarus has been rocked by mass protests against the long-time head of state.
In response to Shishov’s death, opposition leader Sviatlana Zikhanouskaya tweeted, “It is worrying that those fleeing Belarus still have no access to security.”
During her visit to the UK, she told reporters that she wanted to wait for an investigation to determine what had happened. I would like to say it was a crime, but without results (of the investigation) I cannot say that.”
Shishov followed by “stranger
Police said his partner reported Shishov missing when he failed to return from a morning run. Shishov’s friend said he had recently been followed by “strangers” while jogging.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine issued a statement saying he was under surveillance and that “local sources and our people in Belarus” had warned of the possibility of “various provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation”.
“There is no doubt that this was a planned operation by security officials to liquidate a Belarusian who posed a threat to the regime. We will continue to fight for the truth about Vitaly’s death,” the organization said.
They added that Shishov was forced to move to Ukraine in autumn 2020 after anti-government protests in Belarus led to a crackdown on dissidents.
Yuri Shchuchko of the Belarusian embassy in Ukraine told The Associated Press that Shishov found with signs of being punched in the face.
He said Shishov had felt he being watched during his run, adding that some strangers had approached him and tried to engage him in conversation.
“Vitally asked me to take care of his relatives and he had a strange feeling,” Shukhko said.
US and UN call for thorough investigation
The United Nations and the United States have called on Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.
“The situation (in Belarus) is visibly deteriorating,” said Marta Hurtado, the UN spokesperson on human rights.
The US embassy in Kiev said the death occurred in the context of an “unacceptable crackdown on civil society in Belarus” and called on Ukraine to conduct a “full and thorough investigation”.
State Department spokesman Ned Price added that the Biden administration wanted “an end to repression, the immediate release of all political prisoners” and free elections.
Olympic sprinters demonstrate in Tokyo
Belarusian sprinter Kristina Zimanuskaya recently denied entry to the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced expulsion after criticizing her athletics federation on social media.
Poland has granted him a humanitarian visa. Lukashenko and his son have banned from Olympic events for attacking athletes who publicly hold opposing political views.