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Belarus: Vitaly Shishov, head of exile group helping Belarusians flee abroad, found dead in Kiev

Belarus: Vitaly Shishov, head of exile group helping Belarusians flee abroad, found dead in Kiev

Vitaly Shishov, the head of the Kiev-based Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) organization, was reported missing by his partner on Monday after going for a run, police said. On Tuesday morning, the activist was found hanged in a wooded area of ​​a park near his Kiev home.

Ukrainian police have opened a criminal investigation and said they will investigate whether Chichov’s death was suicide or “premeditated murder supposed to look like suicide.”

BDU helps Belarusians in flight and in exile find housing, employment and legal advice in Ukraine. In a statement on Tuesday, the BDU said Shishov had been “under surveillance” and that they had received warnings of possible threats before his death.

Belarus has been in the throes of political and social unrest since last year, when a contested election led to mass protests and then a violent crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko which was condemned by the international community and sparked an exodus of dissidents in the country.

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, the head of the Ukrainian national police, Ihor Klymenko, said that Shishov’s body was found with “grazes” and “peeled skin” in several places, with injuries. which “may be characteristic of a point fall”. Klymenko did not give details of the fall he referred to.

The site where Shishov was found dead in Kiev.

Security cameras recorded Chichov leaving his home at around 9 a.m. local time on Monday and he was supposed to be back by 10 a.m., the BDU said in a statement on Monday.

Shishov “went out, presumably for a daily jog (his sports gear was not found at home) and did not return. Several so-called” jammers “were made from his number, but he is now impossible to contact him. ”

The EDR added that Shishov’s phone was disconnected from location tracking and that he did not have his watch or fitness bracelet. The team called the police, who searched the woods with tracking dogs.

Police said they would interview witnesses and analyze footage from security cameras, and asked those who knew Shishov to provide any relevant information about the last weeks of his life and the potential threats he faced.

Shishov’s friend and colleague Yury Shchuchko told Current Time TV that he learned of the activist’s disappearance through his girlfriend and that a group of them saw the body after coming out. and have researched it.

“At 6 am, we went out to search. The police at that time started to canvass the surrounding buildings. We went to the park and found what we found,” he said. he told Current Time TV, adding that there were “traces of violent death” on Chichov’s face.

On Tuesday, the BDU said Shichov was “under surveillance” before his death and described him as a threat to the Lukashenko regime.

“Vitaly was under surveillance. There had been proper notifications to the police on the facts. We have also been repeatedly warned by local sources and by our own people in Belarus about all kinds of provocations going up to the point of ‘to kidnapping and liquidation, “BDU said in a statement Tuesday. . “Vitaly treated these warnings with stoicism and humor, stating that at least in this way it would be possible for EDR to emerge from the information vacuum.”

Shchuchko said he received a disturbing phone call from Shishov the week before his death. “Vitaly called me last week and asked me to take care of his loved ones because he had a strange feeling. I didn’t hear more details,” he told Current Time TV .

On Tuesday, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said it could have been a crime, but that she would withhold judgment until the findings of the police investigation are known.

“I prefer to wait for the results of the investigation (…) because I understand the context of this death. I would say that it is a crime but I cannot say it without the results of an investigation”, Tikhanovskaya said outside Downing Street in London. following a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says shocked by Chichov’s ‘tragic news’ death on twitter, stating that “Ukraine will do everything possible to fully investigate the case: it is of the utmost importance for us to reveal the truth about his tragic death”.

A haven of peace

Shishov’s death comes as Belarus comes under increasing international scrutiny after a Belarusian Olympic sprinter alleged she was forcibly removed from the Tokyo Games and told to return home she against her will, where she fears being arrested.

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become safe havens for Belarusians since the unrest began last year.

Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have witnessed mass protests across the country after Lukashenko declared victory in the August vote, in some of the biggest protests in the country’s recent history.

'He cut my underwear. Then he did what he did '

Thousands of people were arrested during the protests, which were brutally suppressed by the authorities amid reports of abuse and torture.

Police body and dashcam footage, provided by defectors from the police force, showed the extraordinary ferocity of riot police against unarmed and peaceful protesters, many of them teenagers.

Many have since fled the Lukashenko regime’s crackdown, sometimes swimming in rivers and crawling through mud to illegally cross the Ukrainian border.

Belarusian Olympic sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya said representatives of the Belarusian national team tried to force her back to her home country after criticizing national sports authorities for signing her up for the 4×400-meter relay in Tokyo without his consent.

Timanovskaya did not say exactly why she feared jail time, but Belarusian athletes have faced reprisals, arrested and kicked out of national teams for criticizing the government after protests last year.

She has since received a humanitarian visa from Poland and will travel there in the coming days, according to Polish authorities. On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee announced that it would launch an official investigation into the situation in Timanovskaya.

Reuters contributed to the report.

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