Belarus sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya leaves Tokyo on flight to Vienna

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has left Japan on a Vienna-bound plane after she refused to fly home earlier this week.

The 24-year-old, who had sought refuge at the Polish embassy in Tokyo, had been expected to take a flight direct to Warsaw but switched at the last minute, an airport official told reporters.

Tsimanouskaya was in the care of Poland’s diplomatic services, Polish deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz said. “As we have indicated many times, for safety reasons we do not provide details of the flight route.”

Tsimanouskaya said in an interview with the Associated Press that officials from her team had “made it clear” she would face punishment if she returned home to an autocratic government that has relentlessly stifled any criticism.

Her refusal to leave for Belarus on Sunday, after she said she was taken by her team to the airport against her wishes, caused high drama at the Games. She sought protection at the Polish embassy on Monday. Poland has offered her a humanitarian visa.

Masked and wearing blue jeans, a blue blouse and sunglasses, Tsimanouskaya arrived in a police-escorted van at Narita airport east of the Japanese capital. She did not speak to several dozen waiting reporters, disappearing into an elevator to a VIP area, escorted by several officials rolling her suitcases.

Tsimanouskaya was to board LOT Polish Airlines flight 80 bound for Warsaw, which was scheduled to depart Narita at 10.20am (0120 GMT), according to people familiar with the situation.

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday it had launched a formal investigation into the case and was expecting a report from the Belarusian team.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has accused Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of intolerable “transnational repression” in the matter.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, had been due to compete in the women’s 200-metre heats on Monday but said the Belarusian head coach had turned up at her room on Sunday at the athletes’ village and told her she had to leave after she had criticised team officials.

“I will not return to Belarus,” she told Reuters at the time.

The incident has focused attention on Belarus, where police have cracked down on dissent following a wave of protests triggered by an election last year which the opposition says was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power.

Belarusian authorities have characterised anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and described the actions of their own law enforcement agencies as appropriate and necessary.

Vitaly Shishov, a Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine, was found dead in a park near his home in Kyiv early on Tuesday, and Ukrainian police launched a murder investigation. He led an organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution.