Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has returned to Ireland to meet the Chernobyl host family who cared for her as a child and also to speak with Simon Coveney over the hijackin of a Ryanair flight in May.
s Tikhanovskaya spent some of her childhood on holiday with Henry Dean, 72, and his wife, Marian, in Roscrea, Co Tipperary in the 1990s, as she was one of the ‘Chernobyl children’ hosted in Ireland, over many years.
And now she has returned to the country to be reunited with the Dean family and hold discussions with Minister for Foreign Affairs.
While she is here, she is also hoping to speak to Ryanair management after the May hijacking of one of the airline’s planes – which saw opposition activist and journalist, Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, arrested by the Belarus Government.
Of her meeting with Minister Coveney and other Government figures, Ms Tikhanovskaya, said: “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.”
Ms Tikhanovskaya is a mother of two, and her husband, former presidential candidate and blogger Sergei Tikhanovskaya, was detained and then jailed by the Belarus government in March, last year.
She is now exiled to Lithuania – and was meeting with Mr Protasevich before he boarded the flight which was being detained on a pretence that it was subject of a bomb alert.
“Of course I will return to Belarus,” Ms Tikhanovskaya told Morning Ireland on RTÉ.
“It is my mother country, the regime is not endless. People will prevail, with democratic freedoms.
“The Lukashenko regime is weakening and sanctions are part of the pressure on the country but of course the impact of sanctions is a little bit prolonged.
“Sanctions are not a silver bullet but could help to release political prisoners…”
She called for the Lukashenko government to be “isolated” politically.
President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the country with an autocratic regime for 27 years.
Numerous political prisoners have been jailed by the regime for opposing the government.
Ms Tikhanovskaya said she was visiting Ireland to help “reassure our path to democracy can be a success story this time.”
“My husband is in prison more than one year already,” she said. “He’s having his so-called trial, it’s closed and going on inside prison.
“The regime is afraid (the world) will see broken people behind bars, they don’t allow relatives or journalists inside to listen to my husband or imprisoned people.
“But I have to say, people in Belarus continue to fight and the whole international community stands with Belaurs to not let political prisoners stay a long time in prison.
“Our task is to release them as soon as possible.”
The political leader said she still held dear memories of her childhood holidays in Ireland and the country means a lot to her.
“My most important impression was of the people,” she said. “They were so happy in their country.
“I was a child, I tried so many things for the first time in my life (in Ireland).
“People are very kind and happy. I felt people wanted to give a lot of kindness to those children who came to the country for rest.”
During the Belarusian presidential elections in August 2020, Mr Dean stated he was not surprised the young girl he and his family had hosted as a child had taken to the political arena.
He said at the time that Ms Tikhanovskaya had never been afraid to speak about the political situation in her home country, even as a child.
“I think all the host families have good memories about the children they hosted,” she said.
“We have a very good relationship with Henry Dean.”
She said she had very fond memories of Knockshegowna Hill, close to Birr, Co Offaly.
“Knockshegowna Hill is a hill of happiness, love,” she said. “Where Henry Dean brought all the children who visited his family.
“We made picnics there and made use of wonderful Ireland, it’s a place where we had lots of fun.”
She said she didn’t think she would one day return, leading the opposition movement of her country.
But she added: “Of course one day I knew I’d come back to visit Henry and his family but not alongside political meetings.”