The Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya is visiting Ireland this week to meet with the minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. The exiled opposition leader entered the political spotlight last year after she ran against the long standing president Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential elections.Her connection with Ireland stretches back much longer than her involvement in politics.
Svetlana spent her teenage summers in Ireland as part of a programme that facilitated visits to Ireland for children affected directly or indirectly by the Chernobly nuclear accident. Her hometown was just 40km north of the border with Ukraine and had been devastated by the disaster.
Svetlana first came to Ireland as a teenager as part of the Chernobyl Lifeline project set up by Harry Deane. Tsikhanouskaya spent a number of summers in Ireland as a teenager and returned as an interpreter into adulthood. Harry Deane and his family hosted children each summer as part of his role as co-founder of the charity.
He has spoken publicly about the time she spent with his family and has recounted many of the trips the children went on including to Penny’s and on picnics up the Knockshegowna Hill.He said the girl they knew as “Svyeta” was “nice, genuine,sincere, honest kid”
Her visit to Ireland this week is expected to include some time back in Roscrea , where she lived with host family and worked in a factory to help pay for her university fees.
Tikhanovskaya has also spoken about her time in Ireland saying before her return visit “I’m so happy to have a chance to go back. I’ve visited a lot of countries in the last year but none gave me memories like Ireland,”. She also expressed her hope to reunite with the family that she spent her summers with; “I hope to have time to see my host family in Roscrea, and then there is Knockshegowna Hill that we visited almost every day. I want to visit this place that is so full of memories.”
Almost twenty years later the young girl who has spent her summers in Tipperary rose to prominence as Belarus’s opposition leader.
Tsikhanouskaya entered the presidential race in place of her husband, Sergei Tsikhanouskaya who had originally planned to be the candidate that challenged Lukashenko. He was a filmmaker and activist and was arrested in March of last year before the election.As other opposition leaders were arrested and exiled she put her name forward.
The rigged election of August 2020, which the west believes she won led to a period of unrest that forced Tsikhanouskaya to flee to neighboring Lithuania with her two children. Her visit to Ireland this week is a continuation of her work to lead Belarus to democratic elections.
This week she will meet with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to discuss the hijacking of a Ryanair flight earlier this year. A Ryanair flight was diverted to Minsk under the pretense of a bomb threat so the leading opposition figure Lukashenko, Roman Protasevich could be arrested.
This caused outcry across Europe and was condemned by many, Simon Coveney said that the incident was “ state sponsored aviation piracy” The discussion is expected to centre around this issue and the sanctions imposed on Belarus by the European Union.
Tsikhanouskaya said that;We are going to discuss the situation in Belarus. Ireland’s voice is rather strong on the political arena.
“I’m grateful for everything they are doing, that they joined the sanctions of the European Union, I hope I will see Ryanair to discuss the hijacking.”
The situation in Belarus is constantly developing as Lukashenko is supported by the Russian government and sanctions are imposed by the European Union. Support for Tsikhanouskaya comes from around the world and she met some of those supporters when she arrived in Dublin. These political meetings and negotiations may be enhanced in Ireland as she visits the country that she already has connections with.