Belarusian woman who took on ‘Europe’s last dictator’ was an ‘outspoken’ child in Ireland

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Belarusian Woman Who Took On ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ Was An ‘Outspoken’ Child In Ireland
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Sarah Mooney
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition presidential candidate in Belarus who has fled the country and been catapulted into the global political spotlight following a highly contested election, has surprisingly close links to Ireland.

The Belarusian English teacher turned novice politician, who ran against a president many refer to as “Europe’s last dictator”, has an unlikely past as one of the “Chernobyl children” who spent her summers living with an Irish family in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.

In her youth, the 37-year-old spent many summers in rural Ireland as one of the children provided with respite and recuperation as their health was affected by the radioactive fallout of the 1986 nuclear disaster in neighbouring Ukraine.

Ms Tikhanovskaya continued to return for many summers, also working in a local Tipperary factory once she became older in order to save money for her studies back in Belarus.

He certainly doesn’t want to be ousted by a girl, he calls her a little girl, a poor little girl... this is the biggest opposition to Lukashenko’s reign in the past 26 years.

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Henry Deane, who hosted Ms Tikhanovskaya as a child the mid-1990s along with his wife, had said his family were extremely worried for her welfare before it recently emerged she was safe in Lithuania: “We’re worried and praying for her that she’ll be okay.”

Mr Deane said he was unsurprised by the result of election, which saw incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko claim 80 per cent of the vote: “He certainly doesn’t want to be ousted by a girl, he calls her a little girl, a poor little girl... this is the biggest opposition to Lukashenko’s reign in the past 26 years.”

Ms Tikhanovskaya has refused to accept the results of the election, which have also been condemned by the US and EU, and was forced to flee to Lithuania after two nights of violent protests in Belarus amid allegations of vote-rigging.

Outspoken child

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One yesterday, Mr Deane remembered Ms Tikhanovskaya as “intelligent and fun-loving and outgoing” when she first arrived in Ireland as a 12-year-old girl.

He said many of the children hosted by the family “would not speak openly about the political situation in Belarus, you know in case they’d be heard or somebody would quote them” but that Ms Tikhanovskaya was unafraid.

She was unafraid, she would speak about it openly, that the people of Belarus were disillusioned with the whole political situation.

“She was unafraid, she would speak about it openly, that the people of Belarus were disillusioned with the whole political situation.”

Mr Deane said the family had never imagined that the child they were hosting would grow up to become a major political figure: “Not in our wildest dreams... we never imagined, nor I’m sure did she until her husband was imprisoned and she was asked to take his place.”

Ms Tikhanovskaya entered the Belarusian presidential race in the place of her husband, a popular vlogger, after he was jailed by authorities in the country earlier this year.

Mr Deane said the family retain a good relationship with Ms Tikhanovskaya to this day: “We speak regularly on Facetime... we still maintain a good relationship and we do with all of the children who came here.”

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