3 Aug 2021

Belarus opposition leader says ‘nobody is safe’ after death of exile in Ukraine

Belarus’s opposition leader told Channel 4 News “nobody now is safe” after the “shock” death of a prominent exile in neighbouring Ukraine.


The body of Vitaly Shishov, who was known for helping people fleeing Belarus, was found hanged in a park in Kyiv and a murder investigation has been launched by the police.

Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled Belarus last year after standing against president Alexander Lukashenko in a general election, told this programme: “Nobody now is safe. No one Belarusian is safe in Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine or wherever else.”

She said she believed Mr Shishov had been “kidnapped” and taken to a Belarusian jail, adding: “It was a shock for me in the morning to know that he was found dead.”

‘Easy to become enemy’

Ms Tsikhanouskaya met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday after several high profile incidents sparked an international backlash against President Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.

At the Tokyo Olympics, sprinter Krystina Timanovskaya was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland after refusing her team’s order to fly back to Belarus early.

The 24-year-old claims she had been forcibly taken to the airport for criticising team coaches, and voiced fears for her safety.

Asked about the incident, Ms Tsikhanouskaya said if someone finds the strength to “criticise power” then you “become an enemy of the regime”.

She added: “It is very easy to become an enemy in Belarus, just tell the truth and you become an enemy.”

Earlier this year, a RyanAir flight was intercepted and Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were detained.

The United Kingdom was among several nations to impose sanctions on Belarus in response.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya said she had asked Mr Johnson to keep Belarus on the international agenda and “not to lose focus”.

‘Peaceful transition of power’

Ms Tsikhanouskaya was thrust into the spotlight last year when she took over her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky’s position as the main opposition in Belarus following his arrest.

Mr Tikhanovsky has been in prison for more than a year, Ms Tsikhanouskaya told this programme.

“I believe in the peaceful transition of power,” she said. “I don’t want any kind of violence from our side.”

She added: “To peaceful resistance they (the Belarusian regime) used guns and torture… I don’t want more victims, we have enough. We have enough suffering.”

She said she believes “consistent foreign policy of democratic countries” will bring about changes in the regime.

Asked if she feared for her personal safety, she said she fears for her “country”, adding: “Even if I disappear, if I am kidnapped, it can happen, this uprising will not end because it’s not about one person at the moment … it’s about 97 per cent of our population.”