Aliaksandra Herasimenia: Olympic medalist who fled Belarus compelled into exile once more as Ukraine attacked

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Herasimenia, a three-time Olympic medalist, discovered herself amongst hundreds of Ukrainians massing on the border with Poland as Russian troops superior on Kyiv.

On the second day of the Russian invasion final month, Herasimenia and her husband, Olympic swimmer Yauhen Tsurkin, scrambled to pack some belongings and set off on a 12-hour automotive trip to the Polish border with their younger daughter and Herasimenia’s mom.

With explosions resounding within the background as they inched alongside congested roads, Herasimenia reassured her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, telling her it was solely thunder.

“In fact I needed to make one thing up as a result of how do you clarify to a baby that conflict has began?” Herasimenia, who’s now in Warsaw along with her household, instructed Reuters.

Herasimenia was among the many elite athletes who fled Belarus within the wake of a crackdown towards those that protested what they stated was the fraudulent re-election of Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020.

Lukashenko, a detailed ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has denied any wrongdoing.

Russia has used Belarusian territory to launch a multi-pronged invasion of Ukraine, the place many Belarusians settled after escaping persecution at house. Moscow says it’s conducting a “particular army operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine.

“We have been operating for a very long time,” stated Herasimenia, whose household waited for almost a day and a half at Ukraine’s border with Poland.

“Those that left had been the perfect of Belarusian society, those that had been towards what occurred after the election, those that spoke out towards the violence and expressed their place.”

Aliaksandra Herasimenia shows off her bronze on the podium during the medal ceremony for the women's 50m freestyle final on Day 8 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

‘Combating for freedom’

Herasimenia heads the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Basis, a gaggle that helps athletes who’ve been jailed or in any other case punished for his or her political opinions.

These embody Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a sprinter who defected on the Tokyo Olympics final yr after being faraway from the Video games towards her will by coaches.

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Following a advice by the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC), a number of worldwide sports activities federations have barred each Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in worldwide occasions due to the invasion of Ukraine.

The inspiration has backed the choice to ban Belarusian athletes however says it helps efforts by those that voiced opposition to Lukashenko to compete independently.

It is usually decided to struggle discrimination towards Belarusians now that their nation is considered an “aggressor” by the general public in lots of Western international locations, Herasimenia stated.

“A yr and a half in the past, we had been those who had been combating for our rights, our freedom,” stated Herasimenia, who gained silver in each the 100m and 50m freestyle on the 2012 London Video games, and bronze within the 50m freestyle on the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“We known as on the Europeans, People and everybody in Ukraine for assist. We warned that Lukashenko was very harmful.

“It is as if this by no means occurred … No distinction is being made between those that assist Lukashenko and those that fought towards him.”

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