Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who decided to defect to Poland instead of returning to her home country, did so because her grandmother warned her not to go home.
Tsimanouskaya, 24, has said her family were worried she would be sent to a psychiatric hospital upon her arrival in Belarus.
“I have always been far from politics, I didn’t sign any letters or go to any protests, I didn’t say anything against the Belarusian government,” she told Reuters.
“It may sound cruel because of all the terrible things that happened in Belarus last summer but I was trying to keep away from it, but all I have wanted is to go to the Olympics and do my best.”
Last year, mass protests erupted across Belarus in response to a disputed election which saw current leader Alexander Lukashenko keep a tight grip on his 25-year reign.
The protests lead to a police crackdown on opposition voices, eventually leading to the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich on a Ryanair flight in May.
Belarusian officials ordered Tsimanouskaya to go back to the country at the beginning of the month after she criticised the team’s management.
The athlete alleged she was kidnapped by officials from her own team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.
She then spent two nights in Poland’s embassy in Japan before flying out to Vienna and then Warsaw on Wednesday.
Tsimanouskaya and her husband have been granted humanitarian visas from Poland – a country that has traditionally been critical of Lukashenko’s dictatorship.
“Grandmother called me when they were already driving me to the airport,” Tsimanouskaya said. “Literally, I had some 10 seconds. She called me, all that she told me was: ‘Please do not come back to Belarus, it’s not safe’.”
“That’s it, she hung up,” she added. “I would want to return to Belarus. I love my country. I did not betray it and I hope I will be able to return.”