KIEV, Ukraine (AFP) — A missing Belarusian activist has been found hanged in a park in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, police said on Tuesday, adding that they had opened a murder probe.
Vitaly Shishov, 26, headed the Belarusian House in Ukraine, an organization helping his compatriots flee repression in Belarus.
Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko has been cracking down on any form of dissent since mass protests erupted after last year’s elections, which were deemed unfair by the West.
A large number of Belarusians have fled, many of them to neighboring Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.
“Belarusian citizen Vitaly Shishov, who had gone missing in Kyiv yesterday, was today found hanged in one of the Kiev parks, not far from where he lived,” police said in a statement.
Police said they had opened a murder probe and would pursue all leads including a possible “murder disguised as a suicide.”
Shishov led an NGO that helps Belarusians who flee persecution.
— Lotte Leicht (@LotteLeicht1) August 3, 2021
The Belarusian House in Ukraine accused the Lukashenko regime of being behind the murder of Shishov.
“There is no doubt that this is an operation planned by Chekists to liquidate a Belarusian who presented a true danger to the regime,” the NGO said in a statement, referring to security service agents.
The activist went jogging in Kyiv on Monday morning but did not return and could not be reached on his cellphone.
Shishov moved to pro-Western Ukraine in the autumn of 2020, after joining anti-government protests in Belarus, and helped establish the Belarusian House in Ukraine.
The group said that Shishov had been involved in everything from helping fellow compatriots to settle in Ukraine to staging anti-regime protests.
The group also said that it had repeatedly received warnings about possible “provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation.”
Friends of Shishov said he had been followed by “strangers” while jogging recently, human rights organization Viasna has said.
Belarusian authorities have used force to put down historic demonstrations against Lukashenko’s rule and have been trying to snuff out remaining dissent, jailing university students and shutting down independent media.
Shishov’s death came as Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said over the weekend that she was forced to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced repatriation for criticizing her athletics federation.
The sprinter, who was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland on Monday, said she feared being jailed if she returned to her country.
Her husband, Arseny Zdanevich, told AFP on Monday he had fled from Belarus to Ukraine and was hoping to join his wife “in the near future.”
Lukashenko sparked international outrage in May by dispatching a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania in order to arrest a dissident onboard.