A Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine was found dead in a park near his home in Kyiv early on Tuesday, and Ukrainian police launched a murder investigation.
Vitaly Shishov, who led a Kyiv-based organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution, had been reported missing by a roommate on Monday after failing to return home from a run.
Police said they were considering the possibility a staged murder. Shishov had been found with abrasions on his nose and knee but it was too early to determine whether he had been attacked, Ukraine’s national police chief Ihor Klymenko told a briefing.
Shishov, 26, had felt under constant surveillance since he left Belarus last year after taking part in anti-government protests, his colleagues said. He had been warned about possible threats, including being kidnapped or killed.
Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become havens for Belarusians during a crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko following a disputed election last year. Tens of thousands of people have been detained and leading opposition figures are either in jail or living abroad.
“It is worrying that those who flee Belarus still can’t be safe,” exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Twitter ahead of a meeting in London with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. She said the death could be a crime.
Shishov’s death was reported by the Belarus official news agency Belta, but the Minsk authorities did not otherwise comment. Lukashenko’s spokesperson could not be reached.
In May a dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, was detained by Belarusian security forces after his flight was
forced to land in Minsk.
Shishov led the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) group, which helps Belarusians find accommodation, jobs 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 said in a statement. “Vitaly treated these warnings stoically and with humour.”
Ihor, 24, a fellow Belarusian exile who has known Shishov since last October, told Reuters Shishov knew he was under surveillance, recounting instances of his car being followed.
National police chief Klymenko said Shishov had not informed the police about his suspicion of being under surveillance, nor were police aware of any foreign agents tracking him.
Shishov’s organisation had announced a day earlier that he had gone missing. Shishov had left his residence at 9 a.m. and was supposed to have returned an hour later.
“The death takes place amid an unacceptable Belarusian crack down on civil society, and we look forward to a complete and thorough investigation by Ukrainian authorities to establish its causes and circumstances,” the U.S. embassy in Kyiv said.