UPDATE: Initial reports indicated Krystsina Tsimanouskaya departed Tokyo Narita (NRT) this morning on LOT Polish Airlines flight 80 at 10:20am, due to arrive in Warsaw at 2:00pm, where she had been granted a humanity visa by Poland.
However, fearing Belarusian officials might try to snatch her on the flight or in Poland, she secretly boarded Austrian Airlines flight 52, which departed Tokyo Narita at 11:05am and is due to land in Vienna at 4:05pm today.
Earlier in the day, she was seen leaving the Polish embassy in Tokyo in a van with police escorts.
Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has alleged Belarusian authorities kidnapped her and tried to deport her to Belarus via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines after she complained on Instagram about her coaches. Hoping to avoid a precarious fate in Belarus, Tsimanouskaya sought refuge in Tokyo Airport. The incident marks another chapter of the fallout from the diversion of Ryanair flight 4978 from Vilnius to Minsk in which dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were pulled off the flight and detained.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya Seeks Refuge At Tokyo Haneda Airport, Now Seeks Asylum In Europe
According to Tsimanouskaya, members from of the Belarusian Olympic Team, run by the son of Belarus’s longtime president Alexander Lukashenko, appeared at her room on Sunday and informed her that she had been removed from the team and would be taken home immediately. She was then brought to the airport against her will in order to board a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. She refused to board.
Instead, upon arriving at Tokyo Haneda Airport, Tsimanouskay pleaded with Japanese police to help and placed herself in protective custody in order to avoid returning to Belarus.
Why Did Tsimanouskaya Seek Protection At Tokyo Haneda Airport?
She later explained to Reuters:
“I was removed from the team due to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches.”
She added that the trouble came when she was added to the team at the last moment:
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4×400 meter relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests. And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”
While Belarusian officials claimed Tsimanouskaya was withdrawn from further competition due to her “emotional, psychological state” the move came ahead of the women’s 200 meter race Tsimanouskaya was slated to compete in.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, which seeks to “provide support to the athletes who were detained and faced repressions for taking part in peaceful manifestations,” posted a video on Facebook with Tsimanouskay in which she said (in Belarusian):
“I ask the International Olympic Committee for help, pressure was put on me and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent, so I ask the IOC to intervene in this.”
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee has noted that:
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have spoken to Krystsina Tsymanouskaya directly tonight. She is with the authorities at Haneda airport and is currently accompanied by a staff member of Tokyo 2020. She has told us that she feels safe.
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with Krystsina Tsymanouskaya and the authorities to determine the next steps in the upcoming days.
But her current whereabouts is not clear. According to Reuters, Japanese lawmaker Taiga Ishikawa tried to visit her this morning and was informed by authorities she was no longer at the airport.
Aliaksandra Herasimenia, head of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, noted that Tsimanouskaya is seeking refugee status in Austria or Germany. Already, Poland has reached out and expressed a willingness to help Tsimanouskaya:
“We appealed to a number of countries for help. But the first that reacted was the Polish consulate. We are ready to accept their help.”
Speaking on Telegram, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya linked Tsimanouskaya’s incident to the interdiction of Ryanair flight 4978. On May 23, 2021, FR4978 was traveling from Athens to Vilnius when it was ordered to land in Minsk by Belarusian air traffic control officials, who claimed there a was bomb threat onboard.
“No Belarusian who has left Belarus’ borders is safe because they can be kidnapped, just like Krystsina Tsimanouskaya or Roman Protasevich.”
Government officials have refused to comment.
Tsimanouskaya’s current whereabouts is unknown, though it appears she will avoid having to travel back to Belarus. Her decision to defect in Japan rather than waiting until she reached Istanbul, Turkey marked a strategic move. She now waits for asylum, hoping to land in Germany or Austria.