Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has said that she understands she "can disappear at any moment" as a result of her resistance to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, but that the movement against his rule will "continue without me."
Tsikhanouskaya, who considers herself the real winner of the disputed August 2020 presidential vote that gave Lukashenka a sixth-straight term, made the comments on August 3 after meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London.
When asked about the death of Belarusian activist Vital Shyshou in Kyiv, which has led to allegations that the Belarusian authorities might be responsible, Tsikhanouskaya said she was withholding judgment until she sees the results of the official murder investigation being conducted by Ukraine.
But alluding to the brutal crackdown on dissent by Lukashenka following the August vote, she said, "It is our pain when our Belarusian people are being kidnapped or being killed by the regime's cronies."
The 38-year-old opposition leader, who left Belarus out of fears for her safety amid a brutal state-orchestrated crackdown on dissent amid mass protests over the election, also said she knows she could be next.
"I understand that I can disappear at any moment," she said. "But I should do what I am doing. I can't stop, because I feel responsibility for the future of my country. The same as all those Belarusians who are fighting at the moment feel it's their responsibility. But I know that even if I disappear one day, this movement will continue without me."
In separate comments, Tsikhanouskaya said that after nearly a year of protests against the outcome of the landslide presidential vote, widely considered to be fraudulent, she still believes that a peaceful transition from Lukashenka can end Belarusians' "hell."
"I absolutely believe in a nonviolent transition of power," she told Reuters after meeting with members of the Belarusian diaspora in England. "What is going on in Belarus is our pain. We want this hell finished as soon as possible in our country."
Tsikhanouskaya told the news agency that "when you put enough pressure on the regime, there will be no other way out but to start dialogue with civil society."
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters have been detained in Belarus in the past year, while many opposition figures have been locked up or forced to flee. Media and civil society groups have been targeted through raids and arrests.
Johnson told Tsikhanouskaya during their meeting that Britain was "very much in support of what you are doing" and condemned Lukashenka's "severe human rights violations and persecution of pro-democracy figures."
After the talks, Tsikhanouskaya described the British prime minister as "a person who really shares common values with Belarusians," saying Johnson "let me understand that [Britain] will be with us."