Belarusian Activist Vitaly Shyshov’s Death Is Investigated in Ukraine as Homicide

WORLD

The Wall Street Journal 03 August, 2021 - 08:22am 60 views

MOSCOW—A Belarusian activist who headed a group in Ukraine that helps Belarusians escape repression in their homeland was found dead a day after disappearing near his home in Kyiv, an incident that comes amid an intensifying crackdown on Belarusian activists.

Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday they were investigating the death of Vitaly Shyshov, who was found hanged in a park not far from his residence, as a homicide. All scenarios would be investigated, including the possibility of murder disguised as suicide, police said.

MOSCOW—A Belarusian activist who headed a group in Ukraine that helps Belarusians escape repression in their homeland was found dead a day after disappearing near his home in Kyiv, an incident that comes amid an intensifying crackdown on Belarusian activists.

Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday they were investigating the death of Vitaly Shyshov, who was found hanged in a park not far from his residence, as a homicide. All scenarios would be investigated, including the possibility of murder disguised as suicide, police said.

The incident comes as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has stepped up a campaign to suppress any form of opposition to his nearly 30-year rule. A year after declaring victory in a presidential election that local activists and Western leaders widely believe was rigged, Mr. Lukashenko has launched raids on opponents’ homes, banned independent media outlets, allowed security personnel to use live ammunition against protesters, and jailed or exiled key opponents.

Mr. Shyshov, 26 years old, was forced to move to Ukraine in the fall of 2020 after participating in the mass protests that swept Belarus following the presidential vote, representatives of Belarusian House, the group he led, said in a statement on its Telegram messaging channel. As head of the humanitarian organization, he helped other Belarusians to relocate abroad, organized actions against Mr. Lukashenko’s regime, and appealed to government agencies to promote bills to assist Belarusians, the group said.

Ukrainian law-enforcement authorities had warned Mr. Shyshov that he was being watched, the group said.

The site where Mr. Shyshov was found dead in Kyiv.

“We were repeatedly warned by both local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus about all kinds of provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation,” the group said. “Vitaly treated these warnings stoically and with humor.”

Surveillance cameras show Mr. Shyshov leaving his house and going for a run at 9 a.m. Kyiv time on Monday, representatives of Belarusian House said on Telegram. He was expected to return at around 10 a.m. but never showed up, Mr. Shyshov’s colleagues said.

Police said no personal belongings were found at the scene where Mr. Shyshov’s body was discovered.

Neither Mr. Lukashenko’s office nor Belarus’s Foreign Ministry immediately responded to requests for comment on Mr. Shyshov’s death.

Weekly mass rallies, calls for a national strike and sanctions imposed by Western nations have only strengthened Mr. Lukashenko’s resolve to remain in office and emboldened his actions.

In May, he scrambled a jet fighter to force a Ryanair PLC commercial aircraft to land in Minsk, where a Belarusian journalist and opposition activist, Roman Protasevich, was detained.

On Sunday, Belarusian Olympic athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya resisted her team’s attempts to send her home from Tokyo against her will in the middle of a public dispute and subsequently received a humanitarian visa to travel to Poland. Ms. Tsimanouskaya told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that she would never return home for fear for her life and was looking to continue her sporting career in another country. Her husband confirmed that he had fled to Ukraine. Representatives of Belarusian House said they hadn’t aided his escape.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was forced to flee to neighboring Lithuania shortly after last year’s presidential vote—in which she claimed victory—lamented Mr. Shyshov’s fate.

She and other activists have said that incidents like those involving Messrs. Shyshov and Protasevich and Ms. Tsimanouskaya have raised fears among Belarus’s expatriate dissident community that their lives could still be in grave danger even outside the country.

“Belarusians cannot be safe even abroad, as long as there are those who are trying to take revenge on them and hide the truth, getting rid of witnesses,” she said on Telegram on Tuesday.

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya—who, fearing arrest, resisted her team’s attempt to send her home—is safe with Japanese authorities, the International Olympic Committee says. The situation tests the IOC’s aim to run a politics-free Games. Photo: PHOTO: Issei Kato/Reuters The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition

—Valentina Ochirova contributed to this article.

Write to Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com

Read full article at The Wall Street Journal

Ric Flair on WWE Release: 'Just Didn’t See Eye to Eye on Some Business Opportunities'

ABC News (Australia) 04 August, 2021 - 12:09am

Wrestling legend Ric Flair explained why he sought his release from WWE, which the company granted Tuesday.

Flair tweeted his gratitude toward WWE and wrote "We Have A Different Vision For My Future."

The 72-year-old elaborated a bit further with People's Maria Pasquini and Elissa Rosen.

"We just didn't see eye to eye on some business opportunities that I wanted to pursue, so I asked for my release," he said. "There has been no animosity and everything has been on friendly terms."

Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (via Wrestling Inc's Jason Ounpraseuth) reported WWE Chairman Vince McMahon chose to let Flair go after he spoke to company officials about how his daughter, Charlotte, was being booked on programming.

The 16-time world champion told People that any rumors his release were related to Charlotte are "absolutely not true."

Last fall, WWE received criticism when reports surfaced about how the company was restricting the extent to which performers could engage with third parties.

Like Flair, former WWE star Mojo Rawley told TMZ Sports in July how he felt his departure allowed him more freedom to pursue non-wrestling opportunities.

Head of Belarusian exile group found dead in Kiev

CNN 03 August, 2021 - 10:57am

Vitaly Shishov, the head of the Kiev-based Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) organization, was reported missing by his partner on Monday after going for a run, police said. By Tuesday morning, the activist was found hanged in a forested area of a park near his Kiev home.

Ukrainian police opened a criminal case and said they would investigate whether Shishov's death was a suicide or "premeditative murder meant to look like suicide."

The BDU helps fleeing and exiled Belarusians find accommodation, jobs and legal advice in Ukraine. In a statement on Tuesday, the BDU said Shishov had been "under surveillance" and that they had received warnings about possible threats prior to his death.

Belarus has been in political and social turmoil since last year, when a disputed election led to mass protests, then a violent crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko that was condemned by the international community and sparked an exodus of dissidents from the country.

In a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, head of Ukrainian national police Ihor Klymenko said that Shishov's body had been found with "abrasions" and "peeled skin" in several places, wounds that "can be characteristic of a onetime fall." Klymenko did not elaborate on the fall he referred to.

Security cameras recorded Shishov leaving his house around 9 a.m. local time Monday, and he was supposed to be back at 10 a.m., the BDU said in a statement Monday.

Shishov "went out, presumably for a daily jog (his sports things were not found at home) and did not return. Several so-called 'jammers' were made from his number, but now it is impossible to contact him."

The BDU added that Shishov's phone was disconnected from location tracking, and he did not have his watch or fitness bracelet on. The team called the police, which searched the woods with tracker dogs.

Police said they would question witnesses and analyze footage from security cameras, and asked those who knew Shishov to come forward with any relevant information on the last few weeks of his life and possible threats he faced.

Shishov's friend and colleague Yury Shchuchko told Current Time TV that he had learned of the activist's disappearance through his girlfriend, and that a group of them saw the body after going out and searching for him.

"At 6 a.m. we went out to search. The police at that time started canvassing the surrounding buildings. We went to the park and found what we found," he told Current Time TV, adding that there were "traces of violent death" on Shishov's face.

On Tuesday the BDU said Shishov was "under surveillance" before his death and described him as a threat to the Lukashenko regime.

"Vitaly was under surveillance. There were appropriate notifications to the police about the facts. Also we were repeatedly warned by local sources and by our own people in Belarus about all kinds of provocations up to kidnapping and liquidation," BDU said in a Tuesday statement. "Vitaly treated these warnings with stoicism and humor, stating that at least in this way, it would be possible for BDU to get out of the info vacuum."

Shchuchko said he'd received a worrying phone call from Shishov the week prior to his death. "Vitaly called me last week and asked me to take care of his loved ones because he had some strange feeling. I didn't hear any more details," he told Current Time TV.

On Tuesday, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said it could have been a crime but that she would withhold judgment until the findings of the police probe were in.

"I prefer to wait for the results of investigation ... because I understand the background of this death. I would say it is a crime but I can't say it without results of an investigation," Tikhanovskaya said outside Downing Street in London following a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed shock over the "tragic news" of Shishov's death on Twitter, saying "Ukraine will do everything possible to fully investigate the case: it is of utmost importance for us to reveal the truth about his tragic death."

Shishov's death comes as Belarus faces increasing international scrutiny after a Belarusian Olympic sprinter alleged that she was forcibly removed from the Tokyo Games and told to return home against her will, where she fears arrest.

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become safe havens for Belarusians since the unrest began last year.

Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians attended mass protests across the country after Lukashenko declared victory in the August vote, in some of the biggest demonstrations in the country's recent history.

Thousands of people were arrested in the protests, which were brutally suppressed by authorities amid widespread reports of abuse and torture.

Police bodycam and dashcam footage, provided by defectors from the police force, have shown the extraordinary ferocity of riot police against protesters who are unarmed and peaceful, many of them teenagers.

Many have since fled the repression of Lukashenko's regime, sometimes swimming through rivers and crawling through sludge to illegally cross the border into Ukraine.

Kristina Timanovskaya, the Belarusian Olympic sprinter, said representatives of the Belarus national team tried to forcibly send her back to her home country after she criticized national sporting authorities for entering her into the 4x400 meter relay in Tokyo without her consent.

Timanovskaya did not say exactly what she feared she would be jailed over, but Belarusian athletes have faced retaliation, been detained, and excluded from national teams for criticizing the government after last year's protests.

She has since received a humanitarian visa from Poland, and will travel there in the coming days, according to Polish authorities. On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee said it will launch a formal investigation into Timanovskaya's situation.

© 2021 Cable News Network. A Warner Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | AdChoices | Do not Sell my Personal Information | Manage cookies+

An Activist Who Helped Persecuted Belarusians Flee The Country Is Found Hanged

Global News 03 August, 2021 - 09:29am

KYIV, Ukraine — A Belarusian activist who ran a group in Ukraine helping Belarusians fleeing persecution was found dead in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, local police said Tuesday.

Vitaly Shishov, leader of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine, was found hanged in one of the city's parks not far from his home, police said in a statement.

A probe has been launched, with police investigating whether it was a suicide or a murder made to look like suicide, head of Ukraine's National Police Igor Klymenko told reporters on Tuesday.

The Belarusian House in Ukraine reported Monday that Shishov had gone missing during a morning run. The Belarusian human rights center Viasna cited Shishov's friends as saying that he has recently been followed by strangers during his runs.

The Belarusian House in Ukraine helps Belarusians fleeing persecution with their legal status in Ukraine, accommodation and employment.

Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a "mopping-up operation" against civil society activists whom he has denounced as "bandits and foreign agents."

Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Belarus' authoritarian government has at times gone to extremes in its crackdown on dissent, including recently diverting a plane to the capital of Minsk and arresting a dissident aboard.

The Belarusian House in Ukraine said in a statement Tuesday that Shishov was forced to move to Ukraine in the fall of 2020, when antigovernment protests and crackdown on demonstrators in Belarus were in full swing.

In Ukraine, he was under surveillance, and "both local sources and our people in Belarus" have alerted the group to the possibility of "various provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation."

"There is no doubt that this was a planned operation by security operatives to liquidate a Belarusian, dangerous for the regime. We will continue to fight for the truth about Vitaly's death," the group said.

He also said that Shishov has previously noticed surveillance during his runs and that strangers would approach him and try to start a conversation.

"We have been warned to be more careful, because a network of Belarus KGB agents is operating here and everything is possible," Shchuchko said. "Vitaly asked me to take care of his loved ones, he had a weird feeling."

Klymenko of the National Police told reporters on Tuesday that there were indeed injuries discovered on Shishov's body — scratched skin on his nose, a cut on his lip and an injury on his left knee. He wouldn't say, however, whether these resulted from violence. Klymenko added that police haven't received any complaints about surveillance from Shishov.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's main challenger in the August 2020 election who left for Lithuania under pressure from the authorities, expressed condolences to Shishov's family on Tuesday.

"Belarusians can't be safe even abroad, as long as there are those who are trying to inflict revenge on them," Tsikhnaouskaya said in an online statement.

"Vitaly Shishov was helping Belarusians and was found hanged ... It happened on another country's soil. Just like the hostage-taking took place on another country's plane. Just like the attempt to forcefully bring a disloyal athlete back to Belarus from another country's territory," she said.

In an interview Tuesday, she told the AP she feared she wouldn't be safe in Belarus.

European officials on Tuesday urged Ukraine to conduct a thorough investigation into the death of the activist.

"We are deeply shocked by the news of the death of the Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov," Austria's Foreign Ministry said on Twitter. "Our thoughts are with his loved ones. Austria calls for a thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances leading to his death."

Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office, told reporters in Geneva that the office hoped the authorities in Ukraine would conduct "a thorough, impartial and effective investigation on what happened and see if it was just a suicide, if it was a regular criminal murder, or if there is a relation with his activism."

WORLD Stories