Kyiv: An activist who ran a group in Ukraine helping Belarusians fleeing persecution was found dead in this city, local police said Tuesday. The man was identified as Vitaly Shishov. He is the leader of the Kyiv-based ‘Belarusian House’ in Ukraine. He was found hanged in one of the city’s parks not far from his home, police said in a statement. A probe has been launched. Police are investigating whether it was a suicide or a murder made to look like suicide.
The ‘Belarusian House’ reported Monday that Shishov had gone missing during a morning run. The Belarusian human rights centre ‘Viasna’ cited Shishov’s friends as saying that he has recently been followed by strangers during his runs.
In Belarus in recent weeks, authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organisations and independent media. It has conducted more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists in July alone. Dozens of people have also been detained.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a ‘mopping-up operation’ against civil society activists. He has denounced them as ‘bandits and foreign agents’.
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote. The opposition and the West termed the votes as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
The ‘Belarusian House’ said in a statement Tuesday that Shishov was forced to move to Ukraine in the fall of 2020. It happened when anti-government protests and crackdown on demonstrators in Belarus were in full swing. In Ukraine, Shishov was under surveillance, and ‘both local sources and our people in Belarus’ have alerted the group to the possibility of ‘various provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation’.
“There is no doubt that this was a planned operation by security operatives to liquidate a Belarusian, dangerous for the regime. We will continue to fight for the truth about Shishov’s death,” the group said.