Abducted Belarus Opposition Figurehead Ripped Up Passport so She Would Not Be Deported

The woman spearheading a revolt against Belarus's strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko reportedly ripped up her passport on the border with Ukraine to frustrate authorities trying to forcibly remove her from her country.

Witnesses had described seeing Maria Kolesnikova being arrested and put into a car in the center of Minsk by masked men on Monday. There was international concern over her fate and that of two other members of the opposition's Coordination Council.

Protests have continued across the country following the disputed election in which Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won widespread support. Kolesnikova appeared with her at public rallies and took over the mantle of the main face of the opposition after Tikhanovskaya left the country for neighboring Lithuania.

Amid conflicting reports, it emerged that Kolesnikova had been driven to a border checkpoint in the Gomel region on the Ukrainian border, with the council's Ivan Kravtsov and Anton Rodnenkov in the same car, according to Radio Free Europe.

Maria Kalesnikava
Maria Kolesnikova, 38, an opposition leader poses on August 3, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus. Witnesses said she was arrested in Minsk by masked men, with reports saying she was driven to the Ukrainian border. Misha Friedman/Getty Images

Initially, a Belarusian border official said all three had left the country, but state television later reported that Kolesnikova had been detained trying to cross the border while the other two entered Ukraine.

However she refused to enter and remains on the Belarusian side of the border in the custody of the Belarusian authorities, The Associated Press reported. She is said to have sabotaged her entry into Ukraine by ripping up her travel document, according to accounts shared on social media.

Ukraine's deputy interior Minister Anton Herashchenko said in a Facebook post that Minsk authorities had attempted a "forced expulsion...with the aim of compromising the Belarusian opposition," and that "this brave woman took action to prevent her movement across the border."

Minsk journalist Franak Viačorka told Newsweek: "The authorities believed making Tikohnovskaya leave the country and allowing Kolesnikova to stay in the country would create a crack in the opposition.

"They are always trying to manipulate things to divide the protests, but Kolesnikova and Tikhanovskaya agreed to keep unity and I think this outraged the authorities.

"They always give you the choice, Very bad, and bad. Tikhanovskaya was was given the same choice, we don't know exactly the choice, but she chose the lesser evil, to go to Vilnius.

"I think something like that happened to these guys as well. You choose either to leave the country or go to prison, so Kolesnikova chose to go to prison. On the one hand, the authorities succeeded, but on the other hand, they have mobilized society, because Kolesnikova is supported widely, many people love her."

Reportedly, when being deported from her own country, one of the protest leaders, Maria Kalesnikava, ripped up her own passport at the border. Without a passport, authorities were not able to kick her out and detained.

— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) September 8, 2020

Protests are expected to take place on Tuesday in solidarity with Kolesnikova and there will be further actions over the weekend.

"The authorities have not realized that these KGB operations don't frighten people, but make people angry," said Viačorka, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

"Instead of suppressing the protests, they will become even bigger. It is not about the leaders anymore, all these protests were not organized by Tikohnovskaya or Kolesnikova, but by Telegram channels and the people themselves," he added.

The Coordination Council is pushing for a peaceful transition of power following last month's election in which Lukashenko was declared the winner in a ballot they see as fraudulent.

On Tuesday, Tikhanovskaya made an appeal for international sanctions to be slapped on the Belarusian leadership.

"My country, my nation, my people now need help. It is necessary that this regime, this man, desperately clinging to power, be put under international pressure," Tikhanovskaya said.

"It is necessary to impose sanctions against people who give and carry out criminal orders, which are in violation of international norms and human rights," she told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of which Belarus is not a member.