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‘Critical but stable’ Jailed Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kalesnikava is in the ICU. Here's what we know.

Source: Meduza
Ramil Nasibulin / BelTA / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Maria Kalesnikava, the Belarusian opposition figure who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for her role in the country’s 2020 anti-government protests, is in intensive care. The press service of the opposition politician and banker Viktar Babaryka, who is also in prison, reported Kalesnikava’s hospitalization on November 29, citing her lawyer. According to Babaryka’s Telegram channel, on November 28, Kalesnikava was transported by ambulance from a women’s penal colony in Gomel to the city hospital. After undergoing surgery, she was reportedly moved to the hospital’s ICU. “She’s currently in a critical but stable condition and improving,” the channel reported on November 29.

According to doctors, the surgery was successful and Kalesnikava is conscious. However, her father has not been allowed to see her, Babariko’s press service said on November 30. In addition, her lawyer hasn’t been allowed to see her for almost two weeks, since November 17. It’s unclear exactly when Kalesnikava started experiencing health problems, but she was already in critical condition when she was hospitalized.

According to unconfirmed reports, Kalesnikava has a ruptured ulcer. However, medical workers have refused to reveal her official diagnosis even to her father, as that would supposedly require permission from Kalesnikava herself. Her father’s communications with doctors have all reportedly taken place in the presence of law-enforcement officials. According to a source from RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service, Kalesnikava is being guarded by three people: an armed guard posted outside the door to the hospital ward and two who are inside the ward. Babariko’s press service reported that Kalesnikava was expected to be transferred from the ICU to the surgical ward on November 30 but this still hasn’t happened, according to Radio Liberty.

Before she was hospitalized, Kalesnikava was being held in a punitive isolation cell. According to Babariko’s press service, in early November, prison administrators reprimanded her for alleged “impolite treatment” and “being in the wrong place during work hours.” Kalesnikava was put in a punitive isolation cell no later than November 22, but it’s unclear exactly when she was moved there or how much time she was slated to spend there; her lawyer’s multiple requests to see her were denied. He filed a complaint and indicated that he was concerned for her health, but to no avail.

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Maria Kalesnikava is a professional musician and organizer of cultural projects. In the runup to the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, she joined the campaign team of banker Viktar Babaryka. After Babaryka was arrested, Kalesnikava became one of the leaders of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s united campaign. Two of her colleagues on the campaign team, Tikhanovskaya herself and Veronika Tsepkalo, were forced to leave Belarus after the elections on August 9. Kalesnikava stayed behind, becoming one of the most recognizable figures of the anti-Lukashenko protests.

In early September 2020, Belarusian security forces tried to deport Kalesnikava from Belarus forcibly, but she ripped up her passport. In an official statement, however, Belarusian authorities said Kalesnikava was arrested while trying to escape to Ukraine. After the passport incident, she was charged with extremism and trying to seize power illegally. In September 2021, a Belarusian court sentenced Kalesnikava to 11 years in prison. She has refused multiple proposals to request a pardon, maintaining that she is innocent.

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