A Belarusian antigovernment activist living in exile in Ukraine was found hanged in a park near his home in Kyiv. Ukrainian police said they have launched a murder case.
Vitaly Shishov led the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BHU), a group helping people who left Belarus, where opposition to the government is stifled. He had been reported missing by his partner on Monday after failing to return home from a run, according to reports. He could not be reached on his mobile phone.
Police said they had launched a criminal case for suspected murder, including investigating whether attackers had tried to disguise the killing as suicide, reported Reuters.
Shishov's Nose Had been Broken
Shishov's death was reported by the Belarus official news agency Belta.
Yuri Shchuchko, a friend of Shishov, who helped police identify the body, said Shishov's nose had been broken. He said Ukrainian security service officers and police had privately warned the BHU about threats to activists.
"They said we should watch ourselves because a Belarusian KGB [secret police] network was active here and anything was possible," Shchuchko said.
The BHU said in a statement: "We were warned repeatedly by local sources and our people in Belarus about possible provocations, going as far as kidnapping and assassination. Vitaly reacted to those warnings with stoicism and humour."
Friends of Shishov said he had been followed by "strangers" while jogging recently, human rights organisation Vyasna said on Telegram.
"It is worrying that those who flee Belarus still can't be safe," exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Twitter.
Constant Surveillance Since Shishov Left Belarus
Shishov, 26, was one of many Belarusians who left the country as the security forces violently suppressed protests following the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020, reports BBC. It is being speculated that Lukashenko's regime has a major role to play in Shishov's death.
Shishov 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.
Ihor, 24, a fellow Belarusian exile who has known Shishov since last October, told Reuters that Shishov knew he was under surveillance, recounting instances of his car being followed or his girlfriend being approached by strangers while they were staging protests in Kyiv.
The United Nations said Shishov's death adds another level to "our worries about what is happening in Belarus", and called for an investigation.
Shishov's death is the latest incident to prompt international scrutiny of President Lukashenko's authoritarian government.
Unprecedented Human Rights Crisis in Belarus Since Last Year
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.
In May a dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, was detained by Belarusian security forces after his flight was forced to land in Minsk. This week, a Belarusian athlete took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo after refusing her team's orders to fly home from the Olympics.