Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: The future of Belarus depends on the fate of Ukraine

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: The future of Belarus depends on the fate of Ukraine

The Belarusian people oppose Russia's invasion of Ukraine, being facilitated by the Minsk regime, and see their country's fate tied to the outcome of the war, Belarus's exiled opposition leader said Thursday.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya insisted on the need to distinguish between the position of Belarus's autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko and the people he rules with an iron fist.

"These are two different issues," she told AFP in an interview in Geneva.

Belarusians, she said, were now not only forced to fight against their own regime, "but also for Ukrainians, because we understand that the fate of Belarus depends on the fate of Ukraine".

Lukashenko is supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, allowing him to launch attacks from Belarusian territory.

But Tikhanovskaya, who the West believes was the true winner of August 2020 presidential elections that kept Lukashenko in power for a sixth term, insisted that "the Belarusian people don't support this war".

- 'Treated like aggressors' -

"Lukashenko dragged our country into this invasion of Ukraine because he's paying back the Kremlin for the support he got in 2020," she said.

But "all our people are now fighting on the side of Ukraine", the exiled 39-year-old rights activist said, pointing to how exiled independent Belarusian media were reporting on the war and how volunteers were helping Ukrainian refugees and sending medical equipment into the war-torn country.

Earlier, during a news conference organised by the association of UN correspondents in Geneva, ACANU, she stressed that Belarusians "are afraid of possible war on the territory of Belarus".

As it is, she said, they are paying a heavy price for Lukashenko's position, as international sanctions bite.

"We are being treated like aggressors," she said, even as they "fight against dictatorship."

She insisted that rather than denying regular Belarusians visas, the sanctions should target more state enterprises and banks that fund the regime.

Minsk cracked down hard on the mass protests that erupted over the 2020 election, with at least 37,000 people detained in a matter of months, with many alleging they were mistreated and tortured in detention.

United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Thursday that 1,085 people are currently in detention on politically-motivated charges.

According to Bachelet's report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, more than 900 people were arrested last month during protests over the constitutional change to Belarus's non-nuclear status, pushed through by Lukashenko, making it possible for Russia to station nuclear weapons in the country.

- 'Tortured' -

"The conditions of political prisoners in our country are much worse than the conditions of usual criminals," said Tikhanovskaya, whose husband, leading opposition figure Sergei Tikhanovsky, is among those languishing in detention.

"People are constantly humiliated, physically and morally," she told AFP. "They are deprived of medicines, of medical care, deprived of hygienic supplies. They are tortured."

Tikhanovskaya hailed Bachelet's report, pointing to the data collected which could later be used as "evidence of atrocities".

She stressed that the world must "not let human rights abuses in our country to be overlooked in this (terrible) situation of war in Ukraine."

She warned that people living in Putin's Russia were now facing a similar situation to that faced by Belarusians for the past year and a half.

"We faced huge repressions after fraudulent elections in 2020," she said, adding that Lukashenko "used all the possible violence against people".

"Now the situation in Russia looks like the same."

* Stories are edited and translated by Info3 *
Non info3 articles reflect solely the opinion of the author or original source and do not necessarily reflect the views of Info3