Courtesy of Belarusian House
Vitaly Shishov was the head of a Kiev-based organization helping Belarusians flee abroad.
Vitaly Shishov, the head of a Kiev-based organization helping Belarusians flee abroad, was found dead on Tuesday, a day after he went missing, according to Ukraine’s National Police.
Shishov, the head of Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU), “was found hanged today in one of Kiev’s parks, not far from his place of residence,” said police in a statement. “Vitaly’s mobile phone and personal belongings were removed from the scene.”
Police have launched a criminal case into the suspected “premeditated murder” and will investigate all possibilities, including the possibility that it was “murder disguised as suicide,” said the statement.
Police added 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.
Police said earlier on Monday that Shishov’s partner had reported him missing after he went for a run and did not return.
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 has been condemned by the international community.
The discovery of Shishov’s body 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.
BDU, Shishov’s organization, helps fleeing and exiled Belarusians find accommodation, jobs and legal advice in Ukraine, according to its website. In a separate statement on Monday, BDU said it was not able to contact Shishov.
Shishov “went out, presumably for a daily jog (his sports things were not found at home) and did not return,” said BDU. “Several so-called ‘jammers’ were made from his number, but now it is impossible to contact him.”
Security cameras recorded Shishov leaving his house around 9 a.m. local time, and he was supposed to be back at 10 a.m., said BDU.
“He didn’t get in touch again. We combed the area where he usually jogged, but found no trace of Vitali,” BDU said. “The police were notified. A dog handler is on the scene and a search is underway.”
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, but had not found anything by the time they posted the statement on Monday.
On Tuesday, 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.”
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.
The site where Shishov was found dead in Kiev.
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 4×400 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.
Reuters contributed reporting.