Aug 3, 2021 - World

Leader of Belarus exile group found dead in Ukraine park

Belarusian activists in Kyiv

Belarusian activists and members of the diaspora rally in Kyiv in February. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

The head of Belarusian House in Ukraine (BHU), an activist organization that helps Belarusians flee abroad, was found hanged in a park near his home in Kyiv on Tuesday, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Police say they have launched an investigation into whether the death of Vitaly Shishov, who went missing after he left for his daily jog, was "murder disguised as suicide," per CNN.

  • 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.

The big picture: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has waged a crackdown against anti-government activism in the wake of a fraudulent election that he claims to have won last August. Many Belarusian activists have been imprisoned or fled to neighboring Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.

  • Lukashenko's government in May forced the landing of a Ryanair plane to arrest journalist and opposition leader Raman Pratasevich, calling in a fake bomb threat to divert the plane to Minsk.
  • Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said this week that she was taken to the Tokyo airport against her will after criticizing her coaches. She told AP Tuesday that she was going to face "punishment" from authorities upon her return home.

What they're saying: "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," tweeted Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Go deeper ... Axios interview: Belarus opposition leader calls on U.S. to be "braver"

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