Belarusian Olympian 'Happy To Be In Safety' In Poland, Wants To Help 'Free' Belarus.

The Belarusian Olympic sprinter who appealed for international help to avoid being forced home prematurely from the Tokyo Games has said she is "happy to be in safety" in Poland three days after escaping national team efforts to hustle her back to Minsk after she criticized her coaches.
Twenty-four-year-old Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrived in Warsaw overnight under Polish diplomatic protection ahead of an expected asylum request. She said on August 5 that she was grateful to Poland for its help but she still hoped to return to "free" Belarus one day. "I will be ready to return to Belarus once it is safe for me to do so," she said. "I did not betray it; it is my homeland." Tsikhanouskaya said she had never met Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has clamped down on the country since a disputed election one year ago, and had nothing to say about him. But she said "terrible" things have been happening in Belarus. As an athlete, however, she said she wanted to focus on the Olympics and not get distracted. Tsimanouskaya has been fighting repatriation by Belarusian officials since they allegedly tried to force her onto a plane home early from Tokyo, where she was still scheduled to compete. In Warsaw, she said her grandmother had advised her not to return to Belarus because negative media reports were being aired about her there after her refusal to leave Tokyo. Tsimanouskaya said from Warsaw that her husband was on his way to join her. Belarus's EU neighbor, Poland, has granted the pair humanitarian visas and has pledged to ensure their safety. Tsimanouskaya said on August 5 that she now wants to help Belarusians who are in similar situations.

Tsimanouskaya's plight became a major story from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and refocused international attention on repression in Belarus since protests erupted when Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed victory in a disputed presidential election one year ago.

Lukashenka's son Viktar took over leadership of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee recently from his father in a move that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not recognize.

Other Belarusian athletes, including a former Olympic medalist decathlete and his wife, have reportedly fled life in Belarus since Tsimanouskaya's ordeal began and after Ukraine announced a murder investigation when an exiled Lukashenka critic was found dead this week in Kyiv.

Tsimanouskaya took refuge in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on August 2 after refusing to allow Belarusian team officials to force her onto a flight to Minsk.

The IOC has reportedly demanded an explanation from Belarus and is "setting up interviews" with Belarus team members, presumably including two officials who were allegedly involved in trying to force Tsimanouskaya out of Tokyo.

The IOC identified those officials as Artur Shumak and Yury Maisevich.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the disciplinary process that formally opened on August 6 is “determining who needs to be heard.”

Tsimanouskaya told AP in Japan that team officials had “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment.”

She said the tipping point for her was when team managers told her that “other people” had ordered them to send her home from the Olympics and they were “merely ordered to make it happen.”

The head of Belarus's delegation at the Olympics, Dzmitry Dauhalionak, declined to comment, except to say that he has “no words,” according to the AP.

Earlier, Belarus’s National Olympic Committee told a state-run news agency that it was closely monitoring the situation and cooperating with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has launched an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s accusations.

Tsimanouskaya dismissed any notion that she had planned to seek a way to depart to a third country and said "I don’t want to get involved in politics."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, AFP, AP, and Reuters

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