Belarusian activist found dead in Kiev

AAPAAP
A Belarusian activist has been found dead in a park near his home in Kiev.
Camera IconA Belarusian activist has been found dead in a park near his home in Kiev. Credit: AP

A Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine has been found dead in a park near his home in Kiev, with Ukrainian police launching a murder case.

Vitaly Shishov, who led a Kiev-based organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution, had been reported missing by his partner on Monday after failing to return home from a run.

Police said they had launched a criminal case for suspected murder, including investigating whether attackers had tried to disguise the killing as suicide after Shishov was found hanged.

Shishov, 26, had felt under constant surveillance since he left Belarus last year after taking part in anti-government protests, his colleagues said. He had been warned about possible threats, including being kidnapped or killed.

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become havens for Belarusians during a crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko following a disputed election last year. Tens of thousands of people have been detained and leading opposition figures are either in jail or living abroad.

"It is worrying that those who flee Belarus still can't be safe," exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Twitter.

Yuri Shchuchko, a friend of Shishov, who helped police identify the body, said Shishov's nose had been broken. A police spokesperson declined comment when asked about this.

In May a dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, was detained by Belarusian security forces after his flight was forced to land in Minsk. This week, a Belarusian athlete took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo after refusing her team's orders to fly home from the Olympics.

Shishov led the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) group, which helps Belarusians find accommodation, jobs and legal advice.

"We were also repeatedly warned by both local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus about all kinds of provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation," BDU said in a statement.

"Vitaly treated these warnings stoically and with humour."

Ihor, 24, a fellow Belarusian exile who has known Shishov since last October, told Reuters that Shishov knew he was under surveillance, recounting instances of his car being followed or his girlfriend being approached by strangers while they were staging protests in Kiev.

"Lukashenko's regime is at war, and he is at war. He is at war with anyone who can offer any resistance," said Ihor, who gave only his first name.

Shishov "did not suffer from any psychological disorder, he was always very sober-minded. That's why when he disappeared, we sounded the alarm because we knew he is not a person who could simply disappear, get drunk or party somewhere," Ihor added.

The Belarusian authorities have characterised anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and described the actions of their own law enforcement agencies as appropriate and necessary.

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