'His nose was broken': Belarusian activist who helped citizens flee regime found dead in Kyiv

·3-min read
Vitaly Shishov's body was found hanged in a park in Kyiv
Vitaly Shishov's body was found hanged in a park in Kyiv

A Belarusian exile who helped people flee the regime was found dead in Kyiv on Tuesday, sparking fears of an assassination by Belarus on foreign soil.

Vitaly Shishov was found hanged in the woods near his home, Ukrainian police said, adding that his mobile phone and all his personal belongings were still on him. Police have opened a murder investigation.

The activists’ associates say they have “no doubt” that he was killed by the Belarusian regime. Yuri Shchuchko, a friend and associate of Mr Shishov, was combing the woods on the western outskirts of Kyiv around 7am when a friend called him from another side of the park, saying he found the body.

“I saw a silhouette of a person hanged on a horizontal bar. I recognised Vitaly’s jacket,” Mr Shchuchko told The Daily Telegraph. “I came closer and I identified him.”

Mr Shchuchko said he heard a police officer say: “His nose is broken. Something went wrong.” Mr Shchuchko did not verify this for himself.

Police found the body hanging in a park
Police found the body hanging in a park

Ihor Klymenko, head of the Ukrainian National Police, did not confirm reports of a broken nose but said that there were scratches on the man's nose, left knee and other body parts "consistent with a fall".

Mr Klymenko told reporters that Ukrainian police would only be able to draw preliminary conclusions after they run a series of forensic tests and study CCTV footage.

If proven to be true, the killing would mark the first time the Belarusian regime has taken its all-out war against dissidents to foreign soil in a major escalation more reminiscent of the Kremlin’s campaign of targeting its critics abroad.

Two associates of Mr Shishov, described as a cheerful and caring man always willing to compromise, said he did not display any suicidal behaviour.

The activist was found at a sports ground about 200 metres away from the path that he used for his morning run. Mr Shchuchko said their NGO is pressing for police protection for the man’s girlfriend, who might be in danger.

Mr Shishov was the head of the Belarusian House in Kyiv, an NGO that has provided help to thousands of Belarusians who fled the regime of Alexander Lukashenko to neighbouring Ukraine.

“We have no doubt that this was a pre-planned intelligence operation to get rid of a Belarusian who was a threat to the regime,” the Belarusian House said in a statement.

Belarus pro-democracy protests last month
Belarus pro-democracy protests last month

The NGO organised anti-Lukashenko rallies and helped Belarusian immigrants find work and accommodation. With border crossings severely restricted by the pandemic, Ukraine last year emerged as a safe haven for Belarusians looking to flee the country.

Many Belarusians chose Ukraine as a temporary home over Russia after Vladimir Putin sided with Mr Lukashenko, and Russian law enforcement agencies arrested and deported several Belarusians activists.

The Belarusian House in Ukraine, which raised the alarm on Monday when Mr Shishov went out on a run and never returned, said in a statement on Tuesday that he had been followed by unknown men in Kyiv before.

Mr Shishov fled Belarus last autumn, according to the Belarusian House, fearing for his safety after taking part in anti-government protests in his hometown of Homel.

“Our local sources as well as people in Belarus have warned us about possible provocations including kidnapping and killing,” the NGO said. “Vitaly treated those warnings with stoicism [and] humour, saying that maybe then the Belarusian House in Ukraine will get some publicity.”

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