Warsaw (dpa) – After days of hardship, Belarusian Olympic athlete Kristina Timanowskaja was relieved about her successful escape to Poland.
“I feel safe here,” the 24-year-old said during a press conference in Warsaw on Thursday. Her husband Arseni Sdanewitsch is already on his way to Poland by car and is expected in the evening. Together, the couple decides how things will go on in the long run. She thanked everyone who had helped to leave.
A meeting is scheduled for Friday with Polish Sports Minister Piotr Glinski, where the possibilities of her further sports career in the EU country should be discussed. “I hope that we can stay here, that I can continue my career and that my husband can find work here,” said Timanovskaya.
The young woman also gave international reporters more details about her Olympic nightmare, which she went through after criticizing Belarusian sports officials in Tokyo. It was her grandmother who advised her on the phone to resist forced return to Belarus, the young woman said. She saw on Belarusian state television how ‘bad things’ were said about Timanovskaya.
At the airport, she then handed her cell phone to the police officers. She used a translation app to translate a phrase into Japanese: “I need help!” Timanovskaya was later taken to a police station and later to the Polish embassy, which issued her with a humanitarian visa. Finally, she was flown to Warsaw via Vienna on Wednesday under strict security measures.
Timanovskaya accuses the authorities of her home country of wanting to kidnap her from Tokyo. She had previously publicly criticized her coach for scheduling her to run a 400-meter run at the Olympics at short notice without consultation.
EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell was relieved to see that Timanowskaya had arrived safely in Europe. “Another proud Belarusian was forced to flee her own country because of the actions of the Lukashenko regime,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.
Belarusian opposition activist Pavel Latuschko, who also fled to Poland, called Timanovskaya’s case a “shocking and dramatic situation”. Like hundreds of thousands of Belarusians before her, she was the victim of the repression of ruler Alexander Lukashenko’s state apparatus, he said.
The former Belarusian culture minister also remembered Belarusian exile Vitaly Schischow, who was found dead in the Ukrainian capital a few days ago. Although the investigation is still ongoing, “We know it was murder,” Latuschko said.
Lukashenko’s authorities have been cracking down on those who think otherwise for months. Protests after the presidential election, widely regarded as faked about a year ago, resulted in several deaths, hundreds of injuries and thousands of arrests in Belarus. Recently, several people have been arrested in raids against independent media and non-governmental organizations.
Almost no Belarusians feel safe in their country anymore, emphasized opposition politician Latuschko. Athlete Timanovskaya said she is concerned about her parents being left behind in Belarus. “Especially because my father is ill. He has heart problems and his health has deteriorated in recent days.”
When asked when she could envision returning to her home country, she replied, “As soon as I know my stay there will be safer.”