In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reaffirmed her support for Ukraine and condemned President Lukashenka’s close alliance with President Putin.
Since running in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election following what Human Rights Watch described as the "political arrest" of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has displayed a defiance that has garnered her not only international respect, but no less than two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
With her husband banned from standing, the outspoken politician decided to run in his place, refusing to back down despite brutal threats from authorities and the sexist claim from sitting President Alexander Lukashenka that Belarus wasn’t ready to be led by a woman.
Undeterred, Tsikhanouskaya pressed on with her campaign, gaining support from a nation tired of oppression, where democracy is but a thin veil covering dictatorship, and where officials have been known to threaten opposition leaders with imprisonment and the placing of their children in state-controlled orphanages.
Awash with progressive policy proposals, the former teacher’s campaign bravely condemned Lukashenka and his regime and offered Belarusian voters one thing they’d evidently been craving – hope. And it is this same hope that she shares for the people of Ukraine.
"Ukrainians are kicking Russians in the teeth with the whole world watching,” Tsikhanouskaya told Kyiv Post on Monday, Dec. 19. “They derive their strength from fighting on their home soil and having support from true friends and allies. They demonstrate that the people and the state in Ukraine are united, looking in the same direction, sharing goals and aspirations.”
Now in exile after challenging the result of the 2020 election – an election that saw widespread reports of electoral fraud – Tsikhanouskaya is now a strong voice against Lukashenka’s involvement in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
"The tragedy of Belarusians is that Lukashenka has dragged our land in this war on the wrong side," she said. "He lost legitimacy after the rigged elections of 2020 and needs Russians to stay in power. Having become a co-aggressor, Lukashenka has created a grave threat to Belarus's independence by allowing Russian troops in.
"Now we are fighting a dual crisis - a dictatorship and threat to our statehood."
Describing herself as the "National leader of Belarus" in her bio on Twitter, Tsikhanouskaya still reflects on the mass protests that gripped her homeland after polling day in 2020, and doesn’t hold back when describing her political opponent.
"More than two years after the protest started, the repressions are rampant," she said. " "The regime is insecure and cannot re-establish control over the country. It has become completely detached from the people and acts with the sole goal of preserving Lukashenka's power, even if it means yielding sovereignty to Russians.
"There are thousands of political prisoners - the highest rate per capita in the world. In addition to repressions because of the internal crisis, scores of Belarusians are persecuted because they support Ukraine in the war."
Last month, Tsikhanouskaya welcomed the increased sanctions placed on Belarus by Canada, the latter having joined numerous other western nations in sanctioning individuals and entities linked to Lukashenka’s regime, and placing restrictions on trade.
"These sanctions are against the so-called wallets and state-run enterprises of the regime who are funding the repressions against Belarusians and now also the aggression against Ukraine," Tsikhanouskaya told Kyiv Post. "Belarusians know that it is the regime and its lawless actions who is responsible for sanctions.
"The most biting sanctions have been introduced because of Lukashenka's threatening international peace and security: hijacking of a Ryanair flight, migration crisis, aggression against Ukraine.
"The sanctions are meant to change the regime's behavior, but their speed and design have not always been adequate to make a difference".
Addressing Ukrainians directly, she said that Belarusians "share your pain and support your fight for freedom."
"Russia is looking at our countries in the same light, denying our right to sovereign choice and dismissing national identity," she added. "When we act together, we can do much more to defeat the threats of today, but we must also find energy and focus to build the basis for new relations between our nations.
"I believe that this will be a new stage and a new level of closeness of our peoples and states."
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