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‘That’s why she’s one of our leaders’ Belarusian oppositionist Maria Kolesnikova rips up own passport to avoid being forced abroad

Source: Meduza
Maria Kolesnikova / Instagram

Ivan Kravtsov, the executive secretary of the Belarusian opposition’s Coordination Council, and Anton Rodnenkov, the group’s press secretary, gave a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday, where they accused the Belarusian authorities of trying to use them to help expel opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova (Maryia Kalesnikava) from the country.

Kravtsov and Rodnenkov say they were arrested in the courtyard outside Kolesnikova’s apartment building, where they met after she disappeared on the morning of September 7. The two men were then brought to the Financial Investigation Department, where officers allegedly threatened a criminal case against Kravtsov unless he agreed to drive Kolesnikova out of the country in order to “deescalate” the political situation in Belarus. “We had a long conversation and towards the end they said Maria Kolesnikova would be taken across the border. I realized they were trying to get her abroad by force,” Kravtsov told reporters.

Afterward, the authorities deposited Kravtsov and Rodnenkov in a minibus and drove them to the Ukrainian border. Kravtsov’s car was waiting for them in the neutral territory between the two nations’ checkpoints and the men were placed inside the vehicle. Their passports were also in the car. Officers later arrived with Kolesnikova and shoved her into the car, as well. “The moment she was inside and saw her passport there, she immediately grabbed it and tore it into many small pieces. Then she grabbed these pieces and threw them out the window at the unidentified men surrounding the car,” Rodnenkov says.

When the officials realized Kolesnikova wouldn’t be admitted to Ukraine without an intact passport, Kravtsov says they tried to arrest him and Rodnenkov in the neutral zone, but they failed to catch up to his car. Kolesnikov exited the vehicle before they reached the Ukrainian side of the border.

Inside his car, Kravtsov says he also found a coronavirus testkit, plane tickets, and a medical insurance policy for him and Rodnenkov to visit Turkey and the same documents for Kolesnikova to travel to Vienna and then to Munich. He says he believes these items were planted in the car with the intention of photographing them and then reporting their supposed plans to flee abroad. 

Asked why he and Kravtsov didn’t rip up their documents like Maria Kolesnikova, Rodnenkov told reporters in Kyiv that they simply lacked her resolve. “She decided on a powerful gesture. That’s why she’s one of the opposition’s leaders and I’m [just] the press secretary,” he said.

Neither Kravtsov nor Rodnenkov say they plan to request political asylum in Ukraine.

Text by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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