Teenage sports star flees country
A Belarusian cross-country skier has left the country after being banned from competition, with her family saying she was targeted by the authorities due to their political views.
Darya Dolidovich, 17, who now lives in Poland with her family, spoke to Reuters in an interview on Tuesday along with her father, Sergey Dolidovich, a seven-time Olympian cross-country skier. Sergey said he believes they were targeted because of his participation in street protests against Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
“Darya has been stripped of her right to take part in competitions,” her father told Reuters. “I don’t see the possibility of her continuing her career in Belarus."
“We could be accused of staging a demonstration and shouting slogans, then just be sent to prison,” he continued. “Three months ago, I couldn’t have imagined, even in a nightmare, that I would end up leaving my country.”
In January, Dolidovich and another skier, Svetlana Andryuk, who was hoping to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics, announced that they had been banned from competition, and blamed the authorities for punishing them for political reasons.
“They accused me word for word of being an opposition supporter,” Andryuk said, reporting that she was also planning to leave the country.
“I don’t want to be here,” she explained. “I’m planning to leave for Poland because it’s impossible to live here.”
Belarus’ longtime leader, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, won re-election in 2020 in a race that many opposition activists and foreign observers have decried as rigged. In the weeks that followed, the country was rocked by large-scale demonstrations, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to demand a fresh vote. Belarusian authorities arrested hundreds of protesters and have been accused of instituting a brutal crackdown on the opposition, including by targeting media seen as critical of the regime, causing many to leave the country. Lukashenko has accused the West of staging provocations in his country designed to weaken his leadership.