Maria Kalesnikava, the Belarusian opposition leader who had been kidnapped in broad daylight in Minsk yesterday, had reportedly evaded being forcefully deported to Ukraine by tearing up her passport.
The Coordination Council, an organ called to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power after rigged elections, reported yesterday that Kalesnikava, who is a member of its Presidium, press secretary Anton Radniankov and executive secretary Ivan Krautsov, went missing. While the whereabouts of Kalesnikava are still unknown, the two other members have turned up in Kyiv and gave a press conference.
At 8 AM, the Russian media agency TASS reported that Kalesnikava, Krautsov, and Radniankov crossed the border with Ukraine, according to the information provided by the Belarusian State Border Committee. Meanwhile, Belta, the state-owned Belarusian agency, reported that Kalesnikava was detained while she had been crossing the border “illegally”; it also published a video where Krautsov said he was leaving Belarus “for some time” – not unlike the strange videos broadcast by Belarusian media when Lukashenka’s challenger Tsikhanouskaya was expelled out of the country in the next days of unprecedented protests after the rigged election on 9 August:
At 9:46, the Ukrainian border service confirmed that the two are in Ukraine while Kalesnikava did not cross the border. Anton Herashchenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, told that the opposition figures were forcibly deported from Belarus while Kalesnikava refused and stayed. At 16:56, their location in Belarus was confirmed by the Coordination Council.
The Belarusian authorities came up with a strange explanation for the whereabouts of the three opposition figures: that they had crossed the border control and started moving to the territory of Ukraine, but after seeing a border patrol squad, Kalesnikava was thrown out of the car while Krautsov and Radniankov continued moving to Ukraine. Later, Belarusian state media attempted to spread a version that the two were detained in Ukraine – this information was refuted by the Ukrainian side.
Ukraine’s Interfax, citing its own sources, informed at 10:40 that Kalesnikava had torn up her passport “during the attempt at a de-facto deportation” and could not be admitted by the border guards onto Ukrainian territory.
This was confirmed by Pavlo Latushko, the former Belarusian diplomat and culture minister who is also a member of the Coordination Council’s Presidium and was forced to leave the country.
In an interview with Russia’s RT channel, self-proclaimed president-elect Lukashenka told that Kalesnikava purportedly wanted to run away to Ukraine because of her sister living there, and opined that, “as a border guard,” he thought she was “rightfully detained.”
Maksim Znak, one of the last Coordination Council members remaining in Belarus after the others were either hounded out or arrested, told tut.by that Kalesnikava never considered leaving Belarus – it was her principled position. Kalesnikava’s father also told that Maria planned to stay in Belarus no matter what happened.
The electoral HQ of jailed former presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka, where Maria Kalesnikava is a spokeswoman, told that according to their sources, she is detained in the Mozyr border detachment located in Gomel Oblast.
UPDATE. At 19:00, Members of the Coordination Council Anton Radniankov and Ivan Krautsov spoke at a press conference in Kyiv.
They told that when they went to look for Kalesnikava, they were pushed into a minivan near her house and bags were put over their heads.
Afterward, the three were kept separately; Krautsov and Radniankov were interrogated for many hours and threatened with criminal sentences of up to 12 years.
They were forced to leave the country and were taken across the Belarusian border without stopping.
In neutral territory, Kalesnikava was forcibly pushed into their car.
“She was shoved into the back seat. She couldn’t come out and shouted that she won’t go anywhere. When she ended up in the car and saw her passport, she immediately took it, tore up into little pieces, crushed it, and threw it out the window. After that, she opened the window, came out the back door window and started walking towards the Belarusian border,” Radniankov told.
The opposition members told that Belarusian law enforcement persuaded them that Kalesnikava is close to a mental breakdown. In reality, she continued demanding justice and a lawyer after a 12-hour interrogation.
“She looked excellent and continued to follow the pre-agreed plan,” Krautsov told.
At that time, both he and Radniankov were in a separate vehicle in which they should have left the country, by the law enforcement’s plan. After Kalesnikava foiled the plan, they tried to stop the men’s movement by blocking the road with a minivan, but failed. The opposition members outdrove them to the Ukrainian border, where they were greeted by “very friendly” Ukrainian border guards.
She shouted that she would not go anywhere, tore up her passport, got out of the car through the window and went to the Belarusian border.
This whole operation was needed to take Maria Kalesnikava out of the country, Radniankov and Krautsov told. It is not known where Kolesnikova is now, but Rodnenkov and Kravtsov believe that she is held by the KGB.
At an earlier press conference on 31 August, when asked what the Coordinating Council will do if all members of the Presidium get imprisoned, Maria Kalesnikava answered that today all Belarusians are under such pressure.
“As for what we will do if we all get imprisoned? Today, 9 million Belarusians are in a situation when each of us can be jailed at any time. The thing is, our victory was in the fact that we realized that we are free citizens of Belarus and we want a new life. We are ready to bear that responsibility and go towards that new life, one step at a time. We have no illusions about what the authorities can do, but we’ve conquered our fear and we are moving forward,” said Kalesnikava.
“Last dictator of Europe” Alyaksandr Lukashenka had claimed a landslide victory in the presidential election on 9 August. But a parallel vote count had determined that his 80.1% result proclaimed by the Central Elections Committee was statistically impossible and that the results of every third polling station were falsified.
Protests against the rigged election are ongoing for the 31st day in a row, being supported by representatives of all social strata and professions. At least 7,000 have been detained and tortured.
Last Sunday, protesters once again demonstrated an impressive turnout, with an estimated 150,000 marching in Minsk. 633 were detained, the Interior Ministry reported.
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