A sort of homecoming in Roscrea for Belarusian opposition leader

Tikhanovskaya returns to the Deane home in Raheens where she ‘always felt loved’

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya has returned to her childhood summer home in Raheens, Co Tipperary, where she was hosted by Henry and Marian Deane and children Mary and David in the 1990s, following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

 

On an emotional return to her adopted childhood summer home of Roscrea, there was one thing Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, now the leader of the opposition in Belarus, most wanted.

In the early 2000s, she had come as a child to spend summers with the Deane family in Raheens, outside Roscrea town in Tipperary, where she sparked a craving for a locally made potato salad.

The warm embraces from her one-time hosts, Henry and Marian Deane, were a far cry from the jail threats now facing Tikhanovskaya from the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Recounting blissful memories of picnics filled with minerals, biscuits and crisps, the mother of two said simply: “I always felt here that I was a loved person, these people took care of me, it’s a feeling of overwhelmed emotions.”

Embracing her guardians she said: “I recognise everything, it’s as if it was just a year ago. I’ve got what I wanted now, I can’t describe this feeling, because [the Deane family] were always in my heart.”

The Deanes have remained in close contact with their Belarusian “daughter”, making several “nervous” trips to Belarus over the years where they were monitored by authorities.

The Lukashenko threat was real, said Mr Deane: “I took a call the other day from a girl who is very, very anxious because her photograph was taken in a group of diaspora in Lithuania with Sviata [the couple’s pet name for Svetlana].

“Now the photograph has been seen, so she is afraid the KGB will come knocking on her door, because all of her friends have been taken away,” he told The Irish Times.

That girl had come, too, to Roscrea, he went on: “So it is frightening for everybody. Lukashenko has shown that nobody is out of reach, when he can send up a fighter jet and take down a plane load of innocent people, just to take one away.

“Even here in Roscrea, we are not out of Lukashenko’s range, because he is a dictator, a despot, a bad person generally, and no one here wants something to go wrong on their watch, so we are a bit nervous,” he said.

The security threat facing Tikhanovskaya was illustrated by the presence of Tikhanovskaya’s own security team, supported by gardaí and Department of Foreign Affairs officials.

However, Marian Deane is confident that Tikhanovskaya’s day will come: “Now that the weather is getting warmer there, they will be back on the streets marching, even though it is of a terrible cost to themselves.

“If the protestors are arrested, the torture they are put through is horrific. The men are raped with batons, it’s so frightening,” said Mrs Deane, who founded the Chernobyl Lifeline charity in the 1990s with her husband.

Tikhanovskaya is due to meet the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs on Thursday to garner support for her campaign to see an end to the Lukashenko regime.

Her husband, Sergi, was detained last year on charges of preparation of mass disorder, and she replaced him as a presidential candidate when he was prevented from running.

In May, president Lukashenko forced a Ryanair plane to detour and land in order to detain Belarus opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.