Belarus and its strongman President Alexander Lukashenko are once again under scrutiny in the West after the leader of an exiled opposition group was found dead in a public park in Kiev, Ukraine on Tuesday.
The New York Times is reporting that 26-year old Vitaly Shishov, who ran the opposition activist organization Belarusian House group (BHU) out of the Ukrainian capital was found dead by hanging at a park near his home. The BHU assists Belarusian democracy activists or anyone else who has run afoul of government authorities in fleeing abroad.
Ukrainian police are treating it as a pre-meditated murder case given they suspect it was "murder disguised as suicide," according to CNN. Shishov went missing after leaving his home for his daily jog on Monday, and on Tuesday he "was found hanged today in one of Kiev's parks, not far from his place of residence," a police statement indicated. "Vitaly's mobile phone and personal belongings were removed from the scene."
Foul play, and possibly a planned hit by Belarusian intelligence and security services is being widely suspected based especially on the following allegations:
- Shishov's colleagues say he was "under surveillance" before his death and have accused Belarusian authorities of killing him.
- One colleague, Yuri Shchuchko, said police had warned BHU about threats to activists and the presence of the Belarusian KGB in Ukraine, according to the BBC.
Following months of massive protests last year into early this year after Lukashenko in August 2020 declared himself winner of a contested election, the longtime ruler began his sixth term in office by cracking down on the demonstrations and unrest.
A missing Belarusian activist has been found hanged in a park in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, police said, adding they had opened a murder probe https://t.co/wBTzKbOt4q— The Moscow Times (@MoscowTimes) August 3, 2021
The Belarusian opposition is now widely blaming the government in Minsk for essentially orchestrating Shishov's assassination. "Devastated by the news of the death of the Belarusian activist Vital Shyshou who was found hanged in Kyiv. My heart is with his family. It is worrying that those who flee Belarus still can't be safe," opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been living in exile in Lithuania tweeted hours after the tragic news.
BDU said in a statement on Tuesday: "Vitaly was under surveillance. There were appropriate notifications to the police about the facts. Also we were repeatedly warned by local sources and by our own people in Belarus about all kinds of provocations up to kidnapping and liquidation," CNN reports. "Vitaly treated these warnings with stoicism and humor, stating that at least in this way, it would be possible for BDU to get out of the info vacuum," the exiled opposition group added.
Belarus was already under the international spotlight this week after the bizarre saga of Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya. The athlete sought shelter in the Polish embassy in Tokyo after publicly criticizing Belarusian Olympic officials over their handling of the games. She claimed Belarusian security services attempted to put her on a plane back home where she would face severe punishment, according to her statements. She will reportedly be given asylum in Poland.