As Russian troops invaded the capital city of Kyiv, the 36-year-old mother found herself among the mass of Ukrainians arriving at the Polish border, seeking refuge from the military attacks. She was joined by her 3-year-old daughter, mother and husband, fellow Olympic swimmer Yauhen Tsurkin.
The family is now in Poland, with Herasimenia telling Reuters of what she told her daughter, “Of course I had to make something up because how do you explain to a child that war has started?”
As a result of Russia having used Belarusian territory to launch its invasion of Ukraine, Herasimenia says, “We’ve been running for a long time.
“Those who left were the best of Belarusian society, those who were against what happened after the election, those who spoke out against the violence and expressed their position.”
Herasimenia is at the helm of the Belarusian Sport Solidatary Foundation, which is an outfit supporting athletes jailed or persecuted for political views.
The push from Herasimenia and other athletes was kickstarted by Belarus’ re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. According to multiple reports, Lukashenko has been accused of election fraud, opposition members had either “been jailed or gone into exile”, and protesters of his victory were beaten by law enforcement. These accusations have resulted in widespread protests across the country.
As an example of its endeavors, in 2020 BSSF officially requested that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspend the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus (NOCRB) for Olympic charter breaches amid violent protests in the country.
Today, Herasimenia tells Reuters, “A year and a half ago, we were the ones who were fighting for our rights, our freedom.
“We called on the Europeans, Americans and everyone in Ukraine for help. We warned that Lukashenko was very dangerous.
“It’s as if this never happened… No difference is being made between those who support Lukashenko and those who fought against him.”
At the 2012 Olympic Games, Herasimenia won two silver medals, swimming the 50m and 100m freestyle events. She later won a bronze medal in the 50m freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.