KYIV – A leading opposition activist in Belarus was held on the border with Ukraine on Tuesday after she resisted an attempt by authorities to deport her as part of government efforts to end a month of protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Maria Kolesnikova, a member of the Coordination Council created by the opposition to facilitate talks with the longtime leader on a transition of power, had been detained Monday in the capital of Minsk along with two other council members.
They were driven early Tuesday to the border, where authorities told them to cross into Ukraine. When they arrived in a no-man's land between the countries, Kolesnikova ripped her passport into small pieces to make it impossible for the authorities to expel her. She remained in custody on the Belarusian side of the border after the incident.
Two other council members who crossed into Ukraine, Ivan Kravtsov and Anton Rodnenkov, described Kolesnikova's action with open admiration.
“She was shouting that she won’t go anywhere,” Rodnenkov said at a news conference in Kyiv. “Sitting in the car, she saw her passport on a front seat and tore it into many small fragments, crumpled them and threw them out of the window. After that, she opened the back door and walked back to the Belarusian border.”
He said that “Maria is in great shape, full of energy and spirits, as always.”
Anton Bychkovsky, spokesman for Belarus' Border Guard Committee, confirmed she is in the custody of Belarusian authorities but refused to give any details of what happened on the border.
Belarus has used similar tactics to force other opposition figures to leave the country, seeking to end a month of demonstrations that followed the reelection of Lukashenko in a vote that protesters see as rigged. Lukashenko has ruled the country for 26 years, relentlessly stifling dissent and keeping most of the economy in state hands.