Belarusian activist to press Lukashenko fight with opposition leader
By Joanna Plucinska
WARSAW (Reuters) – Belarusian activist Veronika Tsepkalo plans to meet with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania to discuss next steps towards ousting President Alexander Lukashenko, but has indicated she will not return to her country anytime soon.
Tsepkalo also said it might take “some time” for the anti-Lukashenko movement, which has ruled Belarus for 26 years and has faced mass protests since an election widely seen as rigged, to achieve its goals.
Tsepkalo fled Belarus for neighboring Poland after the August 9 elections after receiving threats from the government that she would be arrested.
She was reunited with her husband, Valery Tsepkalo, a former ambassador to Washington, who was banned from running for office and fled to Russia with their two sons before the vote.
Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, took her own activist husband’s place on the ballot after his imprisonment. She fled to neighboring Lithuania.
Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday in Warsaw, Tsepkalo said: “The only legitimate president is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Our main objective, our main objective is just to get Lukashenko out.”
Tsepkalo said she looks forward to talks with Tsikhanouskaya in the coming days.
“I would like to sit down with Sviatlana and discuss the next steps. Discuss what we are going to do in the near future as we understand the movement that we have started, it will continue for some time.”
But she said she would not return to Belarus herself as soon as she feared being arrested.
“I would like to be able to return to Belarus as soon as possible, but at the same time, I understand that the chances of me going to jail are very, very high,” she said.
“If I am back (in prison), it means my husband will no longer be able to speak to the international community.”
On Wednesday, the European Union held an emergency crisis summit, rejecting Lukashenko’s re-election and announcing financial sanctions against officials the EU accuses of electoral fraud and repression of protests.
Tsepkalo will spend a few days in Warsaw with his family and meet with Polish officials and civil society leaders in a bid to build support for Belarusian protesters before traveling to Lithuania.
On Wednesday, she and her husband met Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz and will meet Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki on Thursday.
After the meeting with Czaputowicz, Valery Tsepkalo said he discussed the creation of a Polish-American fund with officials to financially and legally support Belarusian civil society, especially those who had been injured during the protests or had lost their jobs. .
“It is very important that ordinary people understand that they would not be left on their own (with) their problems,” he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, additional reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Angus MacSwan)