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Who is Vitaly Shishov, the missing Belarus activist found dead in a park in Ukraine?

26-year-old Shishov was the head of a Kyiv-based organisation Belarusian House in Ukraine (BHU) that helped Belarusians fleeing persecution with their legal status in Ukraine, accommodation and employment.

By: Express Web Desk |
August 3, 2021 7:35:40 pm
Vitaly Shishov, head of a Kyiv-based organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution, is seen in Kyiv, Ukraine July 18, 2021. Picture taken July 18, 2021 | Photo: Handout via Reuters

Vitaly Shishov, a Belarusian activist, was found hanged in a park near his home in Kyiv in Ukraine early on Tuesday. According to Reuters, the Ukraine police has launched a murder case investigation suspecting the possibility of murder disguised as suicide. He was reported missing by his partner on Monday after he didn’t return home from a jog.

Twenty-six-year-old Shishov was the head of a Kyiv-based organisation Belarusian House in Ukraine (BHU) that helped Belarusians fleeing persecution with their legal status in Ukraine, accommodation and employment.

Shishov had left the country after the anti-government protests following the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020. His colleagues told Reuters that he had felt under constant surveillance since he left Belarus and had been warned about possible threats, including being kidnapped or killed.

Ihor, a fellow Belarusian in exile who has known Shishov since last October, told Reuters that Shishov knew he was under surveillance.

“Lukashenko’s regime is at war, and he is at war. He is at war with anyone who can offer any resistance,” said Ihor.

Shishov “did not suffer from any psychological disorder, he was always very sober-minded. That’s why when he disappeared, we sounded the alarm because we knew he is not a person who could simply disappear, get drunk or party somewhere,” Reuters further quoted Ihor as saying.

Yury Shchuchko from the Belarusian House in Ukraine said that Shishov was found with marks of beating on his face. The Belarusian human rights center Viasna cited Shishov’s friends as saying that he has recently been followed by strangers during his runs, The Associated Press reported.

“Nothing was stolen, he was in regular clothes people put on to work out, and he only had his phone with him. We have been warned to be more careful, because a network of Belarus KGB agents is operating here and everything is possible. Vitaly asked me to take care of his loved ones, he had a weird feeling,” AP quoted Shchuchko as saying.

Shishov’s death comes a day after Poland granted humanitarian visa to Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya after she alleged Belarus officials forced her to leave Japan midway Olympics and that she feared arrest. Earlier, the sprinter had criticised the national committee for registering her for the 400m relay race without giving prior notice.

What is happening in Belarus?

Belarus has been on edge since August last year, when a controversial presidential vote showed Lukashenko, its ruler of more than a quarter century and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming his sixth straight election victory. The east European country was subsequently rocked by protests for months, and the state has since been accused of ruthlessly suppressing dissent.

Tens of thousands of people have been detained and leading opposition figures are either in jail or living abroad. Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become the safe havens for those fleeing the country.

In May this year, Lukashenko sparked an international outrage after his regime forced a commercial airline flying from Greece to Lithuania to land in its territory allegedly on the pretext of a bomb scare, so it could arrest a dissident journalist on board.

The journalist, Roman Protasevich, is a prominent opponent of Lukashenko, and had been living in exile in neighbouring Lithuania since fleeing his home country in 2019. In November, he was charged in Belarus with inciting public disorder and social hatred. Since taken off the flight, he has been transferred to house arrest.

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