Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov found dead in Ukrainian park

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – A Belarusian activist who led a group in Ukraine helping Belarusians fleeing persecution has been found dead in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, local police said on Tuesday.

Vitaly Shishov, head of the Belarusian House based in Kiev, Ukraine, was found hanged in one of the city’s parks not far from his home, police said in a statement.

An investigation has been opened with police investigating whether it was suicide or a murder that looks like it, Ukrainian national police chief Igor Klymenko told reporters on Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is monitoring the case closely, according to his spokesman Serhiy Nykyforov, while Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has promised on Twitter 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,” Kuleba said.

Shishov’s Belarusian girlfriend, Bazhena Zholudz, told The Associated Press that she doesn’t believe he could have killed himself.

“I don’t believe in suicide, nothing in Vitaly’s conduct signaled his intention to kill himself,” she said. “He didn’t leave any notes or messages. We were together that morning and he just went out for a jog.

Zholudz added that Shishov recently noted that he was being followed. “He recently noticed vehicles and people following him,” she said.

SERGEI SUPINSKY via Getty Images

Activists attend a rally outside the Belarusian Embassy in Kiev on August 3, 2021, in memory of Vitaly Shishov. (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP via Getty Images)

The Belarusian House in Ukraine, which helps Belarusians fleeing persecution with their legal status in Ukraine, housing and employment, also said that Shisov was recently followed by foreigners.

He noted that “both local sources and our people in Belarus” alerted the group to the possibility of “various provocations, including kidnappings and liquidations”.

“There is no doubt that it was an operation planned by security agents to liquidate a Belarusian, dangerous for the regime. We will continue to fight for the truth about Vitaly’s death, ”the group said.

About 300 people gathered outside the Belarusian embassy in Kiev on Tuesday, many holding his portrait.

Belarus has been rocked by months of protests, sparked by the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko for a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to the protests with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police

Lukashenko pledged to continue what he called a “sweeping operation” against civil society activists whom he denounced as “bandits and foreign agents”, and the authorities carried out hundreds of raids in recent weeks to target independent media and non-governmental organizations. .

The authoritarian Belarusian government has at times gone to extremes in its crackdown on dissent, including recently hijacked a plane to the capital Minsk and arrested a dissident on board.

Yury Shchuchko of the Belarusian House in Ukraine told The Associated Press that Shishov was found with beatings on his face. “Nothing was stolen, he was wearing ordinary clothes that people put on for training and he only had his phone with him,” Shchuchko said.

He also said that Shishov had already noticed surveillance during his runs and strangers were approaching him and trying to strike up a conversation.

“We have been warned to be more careful, because a network of Belarusian KGB agents is operating here and anything is possible,” Shchuchko said. “Vitaly asked me to take care of his loved ones, he had a strange feeling.”

A photo of Vitaly Shishov is held by an activist as he participates in a rally outside the Belarusian embassy in Kiev in August

SERGEI SUPINSKY via Getty Images

A photo of Vitaly Shishov is held by an activist as he participates in a rally outside the Belarusian embassy in Kiev on August 3, 2021. (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian National Police Klymenko told reporters on Tuesday that there were indeed injuries found on Chichov’s body – scraped skin on his nose, a cut on his lip and an injury to his left knee. He would not say, however, if it was the result of the violence. Klymenko added that the police had not received any complaints about the surveillance of Shishov.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the August 2020 elections and who left for Lithuania under pressure from the authorities, expressed her condolences to Shishov’s family on Tuesday.

“Belarusians cannot be safe even abroad, as long as there are those who are trying to get revenge on them,” Tsikhnaouskaya said in an online statement.

“Vitaly Shishov was helping the Belarusians and was found hanged … It happened on the soil of another country. Just like the hostage-taking took place on a plane from another country. Just like the attempt to force a disloyal athlete back to Belarus from the territory of another country, ”she said.

Earlier this week, Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya accused officials for pushing her to the airport and trying to get her back on a plane to Belarus after publicly criticizing the management of his team at the Tokyo Games. Tsimanouskaya refused to board the plane and will instead seek refuge in Europe.

In an interview on Tuesday, she told the AP she feared that she would not be safe in Belarus.

International officials on Tuesday urged Ukraine to conduct a full investigation into the activist’s death.

“We are deeply shocked by the news of the death of Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov,” the Austrian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with his loved ones. Austria calls for a thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances which led to his death.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said: “We are, of course, happy to see that this is under investigation. I think his death needs to be fully investigated to elaborate on all of these circumstances. And we, of course, send our condolences to his family and friends. “

The US Embassy in Kyiv said on Twitter that Shishov’s death “took place amid an unacceptable crackdown on Belarusian civil society, and we look forward to a full and thorough investigation by Ukrainian authorities to establish its causes and circumstances ”.

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