Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian Olympic sprinter who feared for her safety at home after criticizing her coaches on social media, arrived in Warsaw on a humanitarian visa on Wednesday night after returning from the Tokyo Olympics, according to a Polish diplomat.
According to the BBC, Krystina Timanovskaya was being transported to the airport when her grandmother called and said, “Do not come back.”
“I couldn’t believe [that my grandmother would tell me not to come home] but I asked, ‘Are you sure?’ And she said, ‘Yes. I’m sure. Do not come back,'” she said.
“That was the reason why I went to the police.”
Tsimanouskaya’s criticism of how officials controlled her team sparked a tremendous response in Belarus’ state-run media, where the government has consistently suppressed any criticism. The runner said on Instagram that she got placed in the 4×400 relay despite never having competed in the event. She was then banned from the 200-meter race.
She claimed that team officials rushed her to the Tokyo airport, but she refused to go home and was protected by Japanese security.
Tsimanouskaya told the Associated Press in a videocall from Tokyo on Tuesday that the officials “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment,” and “there were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”
The sprinter wanted international sports authorities “to investigate the situation, who gave the order, who actually took the decision that I can’t compete anymore,” and requested that the head coach be sanctioned.
She is currently staying in Poland, where she was given a humanitarian visa.
The 24-year-old athlete landed in Poland via Vienna, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz, a route evidently planned to deceive those who would endanger her safety. In a statement, the diplomat said he “wanted to thank all the Polish consular & diplomatic staff involved, who flawlessly planned and secured her safe journey.”
The sprinter told the BBC that she wished to return to Belarus, but it was too dangerous. Her husband has also left Belarus and been granted a visa to enter Poland, but her relatives remain in Belarus.
Her parents, she added, were “OK, just a little bit nervous,” and tried to avoid seeing news broadcasts about their daughter on television.
“They know me and they know the truth and they know what’s happened,” she said.
According to public broadcaster ORF, the runner was guarded by Austrian police officials at the Vienna airport and remained in the transit area. Vadim Krivosheyev of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation said Tsimanouskaya traveled to Austria first instead of immediately to Poland on the advice of Polish officials for security reasons.
Vitaly Shishov, the head of an organization that helps Belarusians escaping to other countries, was discovered dead near his home in Ukraine on Tuesday. He had recently been followed.
“I want people in my country not to be afraid anymore,” Ms. Timanovskaya said when asked about her expectations for Belarus.