By Lucy Ash
BBC News, Warsaw
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- Belarusian presidential election 2020
Andrei Ostapovich was a high-flying young police investigator in Belarus when protests broke out earlier this year, in the wake of the country's disputed presidential election. He was so horrified by the beating and torture of demonstrators in custody that he left the country. He's one of hundreds of Belarusian police officers now in exile in Poland and the Baltic states.
Sitting on a Warsaw park bench in the autumn sunlight, Andrei Ostapovich is lost in thought. He's oblivious to the couples strolling past, to the laughing teenagers and to the grandmother and toddler feeding the ducks a few metres away. With his sharp cheekbones and olive green eyes, the 27-year-old could almost be mistaken for a guy modelling Italian knitwear or promoting an expensive brand of aftershave. But Andrei is a policeman on the run.
Strictly speaking, Andrei is not running any more – he feels relatively safe in Poland. But when he decided to quit his job as a high-flying detective in the Belarusian capital, Minsk this summer, he realised he would have to leave the country straight away or risk arrest.
"I've been in police uniform for the past 10 years," he says. "But after the elections in August, I thought I was no longer safe wearing it because of the way people now feel about the police. My uniform made me ashamed"