"Today Ukraine - tomorrow Belarus," cried Igor Guz as he marched with hundreds of protesters in Minsk, the Belarussian capital, on last month's 19th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It wasn't much of an outburst by the Ukrainian town councillor, but it led to his arrest by riot police. Yesterday he was still in jail and on hunger strike with 12 others, including four of his countrymen. "They were not the first such arrests in Belarus, and they won't be the last," said Artur Finkevich, 20, the organiser of the protesters, who complained of the state's poor healthcare response to Chernobyl.
The arrests, for an "unsanctioned rally", have sparked furious protests from Kiev and the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko. It has also fuelled calls for a Belarussian version of the "Orange revolution" that led to the electoral defeat of neighbouring Ukraine's authoritarian government last December. Such calls have been loudest in Washington. The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, recently gave Belarus's fragile opposition a boost by meeting key members in neighbouring Lithuania.
"I hope Bush will say something in Riga," said Svetlana Zavadskaya, whose husband, Dmitry Zavadsky, a television cameraman, was one of four opposition figures allegedly murdered by Mr Lukashenko's regime in 2000.
Ms Zavadskaya, who met Ms Rice in Lithuania, added: "Lukashenko deserves the same fate as [Serbia's Slobodan] Milosevic."
However, any White House effort to export democracy to Belarus would put an extra strain on Mr Bush's fraught relationship with President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian leader, who is still reeling over the recent fall of the former Ukrainian administration that he supported, will meet Mr Bush on Monday during Moscow's Victory Day celebrations. The encounter could be tense. Sergei Yevtushenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian foreign minister, said he was "sure" Mr Bush would speak about the detention of the Ukrainian demonstrators in Belarus.
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
Support the Belarusian cartoonists
Third Way, the Belarusian organisation whose members are being prosecuted for producing satirical cartoons about Lukashenka,
have set up a web page where you can make a donation via PayPal. The group urgently
need money for their legal defence and operating expenses. Please give what you can today! Read more
We are continuing to focus our efforts on the Belarusian prisoner of conscience Mikhail Marinich.
We are campaigning for him to receive proper medical treatment, to be permitted to see his family,
and ultimately to be released from prison pending a review of his case. You can help by distributing
our factsheets and letters.
Members of these groups have joined our blog to share their views and experiences.