Ukrainian Police have launched an investigation into the murder of Vitaly Shishov, a Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine.
Shishov was found hanged in a playground near his home in Kyiv early on Tuesday.
The activist leads an organization based in Kyiv to help Belarusians escape persecution. On Monday, he was reported missing by his partner after not returning home.
The Police said they were considering the possibility of suicide or suicidal-looking homicide.
When he was found, Shishov had abrasions on his nose and knee, but it was still early to judge whether he was attacked, briefed Ihoru Kurimenko, Ukraine’s chief of the National Police.
His colleague said that the 26-year-old activist had felt being spied on since last year when he left Belarus after participating in anti-government protests.
He was warned and threatened of being kidnapped or killed, his colleague added.
During the security crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko after last year’s dispute over the election, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become a shelter for Belarusians.
Tens of thousands were detained, and the prominent figures of the opposition are either in prison or living abroad.
“It is worrying that those who flee Belarus still can’t be safe,” tweeted the exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya just before a meeting with British PM Boris Johnson in London.
On Tuesday, she said a nonviolent transition from Lukashenko’s “hell” to democracy was possible in the former Soviet republic.
“When we put enough pressure on the regime, there will be no other way out.” She added.
Shishov’s death was reported by Belta, the official Belarusian news agency, but Minsk authorities did not comment otherwise as a spokesperson for Lukashenko could not be contacted.
In May, Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist, got arrested by Belarusian security forces after ravelling from Greece to Lithuania and was forced to land in Minsk.
A Belarusian athlete sought asylum in the Polish embassy in Tokyo this week after refusing orders from her team to return home from the Olympics.
Raising a warning
Shishov has led the Belarusian House group in Ukraine (BDU), which assists Belarusians in finding a residency, work and legal advice.
“We were also repeatedly warned by both local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus about all kinds of provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation,” BDU stated.
“Vitaly treated these warnings stoically and with humor.” They added.
Ihor, 24, a fellow Belarusian exile who had known Shishov since last October, told Reuters Shishov knew he was under surveillance
A fellow Belarusian exile Ihor, 24, who had known Shishov since October last year, said that Shishov knew he was being spied on.
Ihor referred to how they tracked his car or his girlfriend approached by a stranger while they protested in Kyiv.
“Lukashenko’s regime is at war, and he is at war. He is at war with anyone who can offer any resistance,” said Ihor.
Ukrainian Police Commissioner Klymenko said that they were not informed of any surveillance suspicion by Shishov and they did not know of any foreigners tracking him.
The BDU organization announced Shishov’s disappearance the day he went missing. He had left home at 9:00 AM (6:00 GMT) and was supposed to return after an hour.
Belarusian officials have defined anti-government protests as Western-backed criminals and violent rebels, explaining that law enforcement action is appropriate and necessary.
“The death takes place amid an unacceptable Belarusian crackdown on civil society, and we look forward to a complete and thorough investigation by Ukrainian authorities to establish its causes and circumstances,” the US Embassy in Kyiv said.