Two male colleagues of ‘abducted’ Kolesnikova cross into Ukraine, protest leader still in Belarus amid conflicting reports

Around 24 hours after she was apparently abducted in broad daylight on the streets of Minsk, confusion reigned on Tuesday morning about the exact whereabouts and status of Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova.

Belarusian border guards say she was detained at the Belarus-Ukraine border on Tuesday morning, but that two of her associates, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov, crossed into Ukraine. Earlier, it had been reported that all three opposition activists had left Belarusian soil. Officials claimed that, after passing the checkpoint, Kolesnikova was “pushed” out of the car, but she did not need medical assistance.

However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kiev reported that Rodnenkov and Kravtsov were forcibly expelled from their homeland. Also, a source apparently told Interfax-Ukraine that Kolesnikova remained in Belarus due to the fact she tore her passport when security services attempted to deport her. 

“I would like to point out that this was not a voluntary departure, this was a forced expulsion from their native country,” Ukrainian Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Facebook. “Maria Kolesnikova could not be expelled from Belarus because this brave woman took action to prevent them from moving her across the border. She remained on the territory of Belarus.”

On Monday, the three went missing in Minsk after an alleged kidnapping, sparking international condemnation.

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A different version of events is being offered by Minsk. According to Belarus state news agency Belta, Kolesnikova and the two men arrived at the Aleksandrovka border crossing point at around 4am local time. They passed all checks and drove towards the Ukrainian side, but then an incident allegedly took place, after which Kolesnikova was detained.

“After the car met a border patrol, it gained speed, threatening the life of a border guard,” a spokesman for the Belarus border guard service was cited as saying. “Kolesnikova left the vehicle. In fact, they pushed her out and moved on towards Ukraine.”

No evidence was offered to back up the dramatic description. However, Belta published a short video statement by Kravtsov, in which he confirmed that the three opposition activists intended to leave Belarus.

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The opposition believes the trio had been secretly detained by Belarus authorities on Monday and pressured into leaving the country overnight. Kolesnikova’s supporters in the opposition Coordination Council said she had no intention of fleeing and that her whereabouts remain unknown to them.

Kolesnikova became an international public figure in July, after her boss, Viktor Babariko, was arrested and prevented from running for the presidential office in the August 9 election. She took over his campaign and joined forces with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo, whose husbands were also barred from the election. The other two women have since left Belarus.

The opposition says the poll was rigged by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government. They have arranged mass protests around the country and formed a council to organize the transition of power. Belarus authorities in turn launched a criminal investigation into the group, accusing it of attempting to usurp power.

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