Conflicts & War

Belarusians seek refuge in neighboring Ukraine

By Olga Tokariuk

Kiev, Aug 15 (EFE).- Ihar, a Belarusian journalist, shows off his tattoo that reads “Long live Belarus,” for which he says he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Like thousands of his fellow journalists, Ihar had fled to Ukraine escaping the massive repression of dissent unleashed by Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko, nicknamed as “Europe’s last dictator.”

Besides the patriotic motto, Ihar has inked on his skin a clenched fist, the V for victory, a heart made with hands, the symbols of his country’s three female opposition leaders: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo.

The newspaper Ihar used to work for back home was shut down during the last wave of repression in July, forcing him to leave his wife and children behind and escape to Ukraine to avoid prison.

“When I opened the Belarusian journalists’ chat a few days ago, I realized that now they are all in Kiev,” he tells Efe. “As a journalist, I was targeted by the Belarusian authorities.”

Ukraine has become one of the most popular landing spots for those who flee Belarus, since, in addition to being a neighboring country, the political tensions between both nations have offered some sense of security to those in exile.

Although Lukashenko congratulated Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky when he came to power, the latter did not return the gesture following Belarus’ August 2020 presidential elections that sparked months of mass protests, refusing to recognize him as the legally elected president.

The political crisis in Belarus, the repression of peaceful anti-government demonstrations, and Lukahenko’s threats to recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea have ruined the ties between the two countries.

Fedor and Katerina Kotliachuk fled Belarus after they learned that the authorities had opened a criminal lawsuit against their colleagues.

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