Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the Belarusian Olympian athlete who days ago refused her team’s orders to travel home early from the Games, arrived in Poland on Wednesday via Vienna after leaving Tokyo to seek refuge in Europe.
The 24-year-old sprinter, who has claimed she fears for her safety in her native Belarus, was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland following Sunday’s standoff.
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Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said he said he “wanted to thank all the Polish consular and diplomatic staff involved, who flawlessly planned and secured her safe journey”.
After spending two nights in Poland’s embassy in the Japanese capital, she walked onto a plane at Tokyo’s Narita airport on Wednesday wearing jeans, a blue blouse and sunglasses with “I RUN CLEAN” written on them.
Before leaving Japan, Tsimanouskaya said she hoped she could continue her career but that safety was her immediate priority.
She had been expected leave the Japanese capital on a flight to Warsaw, but a Polish government source told Reuters news agency she switched planes last minute due to security concerns after news of the plan became public and reporters booked seats on the Poland-bound flight.
Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is onboard a flight from Tokyo to Vienna #OS52 — arriving shortly.
As expected, the Boeing 777 avoided Belarusian airspace, instead flying over Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania & Poland. ✈️ pic.twitter.com/7Dniu9z5cw
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) August 4, 2021
‘Safe and well’
Concern was particularly high because of an incident in May, when a Ryanair flight was diverted to land in Belarus and a dissident journalist was subsequently arrested, the Polish government source said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Przydacz earlier said Tsimanouskaya was in the care of the country’s diplomatic services during her journey.
“She is safe and is doing well under the circumstances,” Magnus Brunner, Austria’s deputy environment minister, told reporters after Tsimanouskaya’s Austrian Airlines flight touched down in Vienna.
“She is naturally worried and excited and nervous about what will happen next for her.”
Tsimanouskaya will be reunited in Poland with her husband, Arseniy Zdanevich, who fled Belarus amid this week’s developments.
The Polish government’s spokesman said on Wednesday that Zdanevich has also been given a humanitarian visa, Polish Press Agency reported.
Fears about ‘punishment’
Tsimanouskaya’s experience at the Tokyo Games became an international issue on Sunday, when she accused Belarusian team officials of hustling her to the airport and trying to put her on a plane to Belarus against her wishes because she had publicly criticised them.
The team officials made it clear she would face “punishment” back home, she said on Tuesday.
Tsimanouskaya refused to board the flight and sought the protection of Japanese police. She later made for the Polish embassy in Tokyo as reports abounded that she was seeking asylum in Europe.
Her case has focused attention on political discord in Belarus, where authorities have cracked down on dissent following a wave of protests following the disputed August 2020 election the opposition claims was rigged to keep longtime President Alexander Lukashenko in power.
Belarusian authorities characterised the anti-government protesters, thousands of whom were arrested, as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West.
In a separate development that has raised further concerns among the Belarusian opposition, a Belarusian activist was found hanged in a park near his home in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday, a day after he was reported missing.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has launched a formal investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s case, said on Wednesday that it had received a report from the Belarusian team.
“The IOC is opening a disciplinary commission to establish the facts in this case and to hear the two officials – Artur Shumak and Yuri Moisevich – who had been allegedly involved in this incident,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
The Belarus National Olympic Committee (NOC) has previously said coaches withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.
Critics of Lukashenko’s administration, including the United States, have condemned Tsimanouskaya’s treatment.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday accused Belarus of an “act of transnational repression” over the alleged attempt to force her home.
“Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated,” he tweeted.
Poland, home to a growing number of Belarusian dissidents, denounced what it called a “criminal attempt” to kidnap the athlete.