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The chief of an NGO that provided aid to people fleeing Belarus was found hanged in Ukraine's capital Kyiv. His friends said he had been followed by "strangers."
The body of a Belarusian activist was discovered in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv a day after he was reported missing, police there said on Tuesday.
"Belarusian citizen Vitaly Shishov [...] was today found hanged in one of the Kyiv parks, not far from where he lived," police said in a statement.
A murder probe has been opened, authorities said, adding that they would pursue all leads, including a possible "murder disguised as a suicide."
The 26-year-old was the head of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU), an organization that helps Belarusians trying to flee persecution. The organization helps them find accommodation, employment, and legal services.
Ukraine, like Poland and Lithuania, has become a haven for Belarusians following a crackdown on dissent in their home country by President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus has been rocked by mass protests against the longtime leader since disputed elections last year.
Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reacted to Shishov's death, tweeting that "it is worrying that those who flee Belarus still can't be safe."
During a visit to the UK, she told reporters that she wanted to wait for the investigation to determine what happened: "I would say it was a crime, but I can't say it without any results of (the) investigation."
Police said Shishov was reported missing by his partner when he did not return from his morning run. Shishov's friends said he had been followed by "strangers" recently while jogging.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine released a statement saying 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.
They added that Shishov was forced to move to Ukraine in the fall of 2020 after anti-government protests led to a crackdown on dissent in Belarus.
Yury Shchuchko from the Belarusian House in Ukraine told the AP news agency that Shishov was found with evidence of beating on his face.
He said Shishov felt he was being watched during his runs, adding that strangers would approach him and try to start a conversation.
"Vitaly asked me to take care of his loved ones, he had a weird feeling," Shchuchko said.
The United Nations and the US have called on the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.
UN human rights spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said "the situation (in Belarus) is deteriorating clearly."
The US embassy in Kiev said the death came "amid an unacceptable Belarusian crackdown on civil society" and called on Ukraine to do a "complete and thorough investigation."
State Department spokesman Ned Price added that the Biden administration wanted "an end to the crackdown, the immediate release of all political prisoners" and free elections.
Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was recently denied participation in the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced repatriation after she criticized her athletics federation on social media.
Poland has granted her a humanitarian visa.
Lukashenko and his son have been banned from Olympic events for targeting athletes who have openly expressed opposing political views.
tg/dj (AFP, Reuters)