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Exiled Belarusian activist found hanged in Ukraine

A Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine was found hanged in a park near his home in Kyiv early on Tuesday, and Ukrainian police said they had launched a murder case.

Police open murder probe into death of Vitaly Shishov

Vitaly Shishov, leader of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine, is shown in an undated photo provided by the Belarusian human rights centre Viasna. (Human Rights Center Viasna/The Associated Press)

A Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine was found hanged in a park near his home in Kyiv early on Tuesday, and Ukrainian police said they had launched a murder case.

Vitaly Shishov, who led a Kyiv-based organization that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution, had been reported missing by his partner on Monday after failing to return home from a run.

Police said they had launched a criminal case for suspected murder, including investigating whether killers tried to disguise the crime as suicide.

Shishov had felt under constant surveillance since he left Belarus last year after taking part in anti-government protests, his colleagues said in a statement. He had been warned about possible threats, including being kidnapped or killed.

"Belarusian citizen Vitaly Shishov, who disappeared yesterday in Kyiv, was found hanged today in one of Kyiv's parks, not far from his place of residence," the police statement said.

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become havens for Belarusians during a crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko following a disputed election last year.

Shishov led the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU) group, which helps Belarusians find accommodation, jobs and legal advice, according to its website.

"We were also repeatedly warned by both local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus about all kinds of provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation," BDU said in a statement.

The organization had said on Monday it was not able to contact Shishov. It said Shishov had left his residence at 9 a.m. local time and was supposed to have returned an hour later.

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Tuesday that the death might be a crime, although she said an investigation would show the ultimate truth. 

"I'd prefer to wait for results of an investigation," Tsikhanouskaya told reporters in London when asked about Shishov's death. "I would say it was a crime but I can't say it without any results of [the] investigation."

The Belarusian authorities have characterized anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and described the actions of their own law enforcement agencies as appropriate and necessary.

BDU was set to organize a march in Kyiv on Aug. 8 to mark a year since the start of mass protests against Lukashenko.

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