Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova has been detained while trying to enter Ukraine within the early hours of Tuesday morning, consistent with Belarusian border officials, each day after her allies said she had been grabbed off the road by masked men.
The circumstances of her attempted journey to Ukraine weren’t immediately clear, with some media reports initially suggesting she had made it across the border, something border guards on each side later denied.
The opposition movement on Monday had said that unidentified men had taken Kolesnikova in central Minsk and driven her off during a minivan, while two other activists disappeared later.
Those two allies successfully crossed into Ukraine within the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian border service said.
“Kolesnikova has now been detained, i can not say concretely where she is, but she has been detained,” Anton Bychkovsky, a representative of the Belarusian border service, told Reuters by phone.
“She was detained in reference to the circumstances under which they (the group) left the territory of Belarus,” he said.
The official Belta press agency said she had been travelling with the 2 other activists who made it into Ukraine. Kolesnikova couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Belta quoted border officials as saying the three had tried to cross the border during a BMW car about 4am on Tuesday, and said Kolesnikova’s car had accelerated sharply after being confronted by a border guard.
“Kolesnikova was outside the vehicle. In fact, she was pushed from it and it continued moving towards the Ukrainian side,” Belta quoted the border service as saying.
According to the Interfax Ukraine press agency , Kolesnikova ripped up her passport to thwart an effort to deport her to neighbouring Ukraine.
Deputy Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook that Kolesnikova, who had been missing for the past 24 hours, had successfully prevented “a forcible expulsion from her native country”.
Belarusian journalist Andrei Vaitovich told Al Jazeera that because Kolesnikova ripped up her passport, this “proves once more that this departure wasn’t voluntary”.
He said: “She didn’t [want] to go away the country. She told me a few of days ago she is going to stay here, until the top . Today, what we saw once more proves that the Belarusian authorities just tried to kick out from the country the most opposition figures in order that they can’t lead the protest.”
Police in Minsk were cited by Russia’s Interfax press agency as saying on Monday that that they had not arrested Kolesnikova.
Kolesnikova, a member of the opposition coordination council, was the last of three female politicians left in Belarus who joined forces before an August 9 presidential election to undertake to challenge veteran incumbent Alexander Lukashenko.
A vocal critic of Lukashenko, she has played a crucial role in weeks of mass demonstrations and strikes by protesters who accuse Lukashenko of rigging his re-election.
Lukashenko, who has been in power for the last 26 years, denies that allegation and has accused foreign powers of trying to topple him during a revolution. He has responded with a crackdown which a number of those detained say includes torture and beatings.
Lukashenko on Tuesday said he wouldn’t step down, despite the wave of protests, but didn’t rule out early presidential elections during an interview with Russian media, a radio journalist reported.
Lukashenko said his supporters would be attacked if he left, said Roman Babayan, editor in chief of the Moscow Talks station .