On May 23, 2021, the Belarusian authorities, under the pretext of reporting “mining,” landed a Ryanair passenger plane flying from Athens to Vilnius in Minsk. The regime of Oleksandr Lukashenko raised a fighter jet into the sky, threatening the safety of passengers, and directed a civilian plane to Minsk, which was already closer to Vilnius on its way.

Among the passengers of the plane was a journalist, founder of the opposition Telegram channel NEXTA, editor-in-chief of the Telegram channel “RB of the brain” Roman Protasevich. Before departure, Protasevich managed to inform his colleagues about the suspicious interest in him from unknown persons at the Athens airport. He was detained at the Minsk airport. Now in Belarus, he may face torture and many years in prison on trumped-up charges, and possibly the death penalty. Protasevich’s girlfriend, Sofiya Sapeha, is also reported to have been detained there.

This is an unprecedented case in the history of civil aviation, when the Belarusian dictator, to persecute critics of the regime under a fictitious pretext, did not hesitate to seize an aircraft that crossed the country’s airspace.

The repressions, pain, and suffering inflicted by the self-proclaimed President Oleksandr Lukashenko on his own people have spilled over the country’s territory. The actions of the Belarusian dictator and his regime to seize a foreign passenger aircraft to kidnap an opponent meet the definition of a “terrorist act.” During the 27 years of his rule, Lukashenko himself has not only trampled on the Belarusian Constitution, destroyed human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, but also threatens international civil aviation and security.

We, representatives of Ukrainian civil society organizations, support the initiative of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to stop direct flights between Ukraine and Belarus and close the airspace of Belarus for air travel from and to Ukraine, and call on the government to develop and make an appropriate decision. We also appeal to all democratic countries of the world to cease all flights to Belarus and bypass its airspace until the release of Roman Protasevich and 405 other political prisoners.

However, for the fall of the Lukashenko regime, one more step is needed, namely, tough economic sanctions and the exsanguination of the regime’s financial cushion.

We urge the government of Ukraine and local governments to stop buying electricity, petroleum products, industrial chemicals, and automotive products from Belarus. 

We demand that the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine impose sectoral economic sanctions against Belarus and personal sanctions against companies of the Republic of Belarus and their owners that are under EU sanctions, as well as against Belarusian oligarchs who sponsor the Lukashenko regime (including Oleksii Alieksin and Mykola Vorobei).  

In addition, we emphasize that in the current conditions, the extradition, or expulsion of anyone to the Republic of Belarus is unacceptable. Forcing someone into the hands of an illegitimate regime that massively violates human rights, organizes terrorist actions, and uses the death penalty is unacceptable from either a legal or moral point of view.

We call on the Ukrainian government (in particular, the Cabinet of Ministers) to grant fugitives from the Lukashenko regime in Ukraine the status of “temporary protection” envisaged by the law of Ukraine “On Refugees and Persons in Need of Additional or Temporary Protection” as soon as possible.

Мы салідарныя з беларускім народам у яго барацьбе з дыктатурай і тыраніяй. Будзем змагацца — пераможам!

Жыве Беларусь!

  • ZMINA Human Rights Center
  • Charitable foundation “EAST SOS”
  • NGO “Liberal Democratic League of Ukraine”/Free Hong Kong Center
  • All-Ukrainian Association “Automaidan”
  • Anti-Corruption Action Center
  • UMDPL Association
  • NGO Agency of public journalism BRIDGE
  • Educational Human Rights House — Chernihiv
  • Diya Human Rights Center
  • NGO “ANTS”
  • Lawyer advisory group
  • Transparency International Ukraine 
  • Media initiative for Human Rights
  • Public Interest Journalism Lab
  • Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center