Ukraine steps up protection of Belarusian exiles after activist death

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered the country’s law enforcement agencies on Wednesday to better protect Belarusian exiles in his country after a Belarusian activist was found dead in Kyiv earlier this week.

“Every Belarusian who could become a target for criminals because of political stance must receive special reliable protection,” Zelenskyy said in a statement.

“This decision was made after police obtained information on possible risks for several Belarusian activists,” the statement added.

Ukrainian authorities have already drawn up a list of Belarusians who might be at risk and offered them additional protection measures, Zelenskyy said.

On Tuesday, Vitaly Shishov, a Belarusian activist who ran a group in Ukraine helping Belarusians fleeing persecution, was found hanged in a park in the Ukrainian capital.

Ukrainian police have opened a probe to investigate whether it was a suicide or a murder disguised as suicide.

Belarus was shaken by months of protests after President Alexander Lukashenko’s was awarded a sixth term in a presidential vote last year that the opposition and the West denounced as rigged.

He responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Many dissidents fled abroad, including in Ukraine.

The Belarusian regime has ramped up its crackdown on dissent in recent weeks, targeting independent journalists and democracy activists in hundreds of raids.

On Wednesday, a Belarusian Olympic sprinter flew from Tokyo to Europe after resisting an attempt by her team’s officials to forcibly send her home after a dispute over coaching. The 24-year-old runner Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she could be in danger if she returns to her homeland.

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