Belarus Olympic athlete flies out of Japan

A Belarusian athlete who refused orders to fly home early from the Olympics has left Japan.

Krystina Timanovskaya, 24, boarded a flight to Vienna on Wednesday morning.

She had been expected to travel directly to Warsaw as Poland has granted her a humanitarian visa, but changed destination at the last minute, an airport official told reporters.

She told the BBC her actions were not a political protest: “I love my country and I didn’t betray my country.”

“This is about the mistakes that have been made by our officials at the Olympics,” she told the BBC’s Newshour.

The athlete voiced fears for her safety after she was forced to pack her belongings and driven to Tokyo’s Haneda airport last week, after criticising her coaches.

She was given police protection before being moved to the Polish embassy in Tokyo, where she stayed until travelling to Narita airport on Wednesday.

Belarus says she was removed from the national team because of her emotional state.

But speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Ms Timanovskaya said she did not suffer from any mental health issues and did not have any conversations with doctors at the Olympic village.

She said she was surprised when team officials told her she was leaving the Games because she “didn’t say anything political”, adding that she would like to return to Belarus “when I know that it’s safe… maybe I’ll only be able to return after five or 10 years”.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has launched a formal investigation into allegations that Belarus attempted to force Ms Timanovskaya to return home.

“We need to establish the full facts, that can take time,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “In the meantime our first concern is for the athlete.”

The IOC has requested that the Belarus National Olympic Committee submit its report on the incident by the end of Tuesday.

The athlete’s husband, Arseniy Zdanevich, has since fled Belarus and is currently in Ukraine. He told the BBC’s Ukrainian service that the couple had never been involved in politics and would return to Belarus if they did not face criminal charges.

Separately on Tuesday, the head of an organisation helping Belarusians fleeing abroad was found dead near his home in neighbouring Ukraine. Vitaly Shishov had reportedly been followed recently.

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