VILNIUS - Lithuania's assistance to the Belarusians goes beyond words or statements expressing concern, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says.
Addressing the Lithuanian parliament on Tuesday, the Belarusian opposition leader also stressed the importance of the West's unity in supporting Ukraine and Belarus.
"Let me thank you on behalf of all Belarusians. We feel your support every day and we appreciate it very much, even if we sometimes forget to say it. Your support goes beyond formal statements, words of concern. Many Belarusian families fleeing repression have found temporary refuge in Lithuania," Tsikhanouskaya said.
Addressing Lithuanian lawmakers, she said she chose Lithuania as a place of refuge when she had to choose between prison and her children in 2020 when authoritarian Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was reelected in a vote non-recognized by the West.
"Why did I choose Lithuania? Because Lithuania means security, Lithuania means friends. In a year and a half I have lived here, I have never once encountered a negative attitude towards the Belarusians, only support and solidarity," the Belarusian opposition leader pointed out.
Without a free Ukraine there will be no free Belarus, and without a free Belarus there will be no safe Ukraine and no safe Europe, Tsikhanouskaya stressed.
"It's very important for us for the West to remain united in supporting Ukraine and Belarus. Today, dictators are trying to split this unity between the US and the European Union, to drive a wedge between individual EU countries", the Belarusian representative said.
She also thanked the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the country's government for its tough sanction policy, adding that she would continue to invite other countries to follow "Lithuania's principled example".
"Belarus is at a historic crossroads. The Belarusians understand they have only two paths: either a European and democratic Belarus, or de jure occupation by Russia and years of isolation, regression and lawlessness", Tsikhanouskaya said.
Ukraine's victory in the ongoing war started by Russia is necessary for all peoples, including the Belarusians, she underlined. "Only together with a free and independent Belarus and a free Ukraine will we be able to have a strong and secure Europe", she noted.
Tsikhanouskaya was invited to address the Seimas on Tuesday, a year after the Minsk regime forced a Ryanair plane with 126 passengers, en route from Athens to Vilnius, to divert to and land in Minsk where blogger Raman Pratasevich and his then girlfriend Sofia Sapega were detained.
Earlier this month, Sapega, a Russian citizen who studied in Vilnius, was sentenced by a Belarusian court to six years in prison.
On May 21, the Belarusians mark the Political Prisoner Day, and May 29 also marks two years since the arrest of Tsikhanouskaya's husband who was sentenced earlier this year to 18 years in prison.
Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania after August, 2020 presidential election in Belarus and she continues to lead the Belarusian opposition from Lithuania.