Andrei Ostapovici resigned from the Belarusian police on August 16 following an action against protesters over the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko – in the first weekend after the election considered fraudulent, his superiors asked him to investigate people who had vandalized a police van, accusations which he considered manufactured.
“I saw with my own eyes the iniquities of the police and the total disregard of the law. I knew that I would not be willing to take part in the repression and that I had to support my point of view, “he told The Moscow Times.
So, on August 16, he resigned and left for Moscow. He also posted a resignation letter on Instagram urging his compatriots to “fire the dictator.”
Factory strikes – previously bases for Lukashenko’s support – have erupted, sparked by the whirlwind of mass protests following the August 9 elections, but few people in the government apparatus have left Lukashenko.
His escape to Poland was an adventurous journey: detained in Russia and deposited back in Belarus, he hid in a forest and was later helped to reach Poland.
Detained in Russia
Ostapovici understood that he was going to have big problems as soon as he arrived in Moscow where a high-ranking friend from Belarus warned him that the authorities were following him after seeing the post on Instagram and that he already knew he was in Russia.
He then contacted the Lithuanian authorities, who promised him a visa when crossing the border.
He arrived in a rented car on the border between Russia and Lithuania, but Russian customs officers did not let him pass, citing anti-COVID-19 restrictions. On the advice of the Lithuanians, he went to the nearest Russian consulate in the western city of Pskov. Once there, local police arrested him on charges of public disorder and spent a night in custody before being invited to the emergency room. Seven masked men were waiting for him here, probably agents of the Russian security service (FSB), who put him in a van blindfolded and handcuffed him.
“It simply came to my notice then. Will they throw me into a river? I was aware that I was a good swimmer, but with a 30-kilometer load, I would surely have found my end. You can’t know what they’ll do to you. They could have staged an accidental death for me, “he said.
After a few hours of walking, he could assume from the noise of some trucks that he was approaching the border with Belarus. His captors released him and told him that he was in Vitebsk, on the border with Belarus, and then to communicate his verdict: he was banned from entering Russia for five years, as he took part in “a plot involving Wagner soldiers. “.
In July, 33 Russian mercenaries from the Wagner private group were arrested in Belarus on plots to destabilize the country ahead of the presidential election. Later, the Belarusian government said that the soldiers were lured into a trap, part of an operation set up by the Ukrainian Security Service.
“The accusation was completely absurd, but I decided not to throw away my luck by questioning what they said,” Ostapovici said, adding that the masked men – who allegedly belonged to the FSB – left him on a vacancy instead of he was handing over security forces in Belarus, as at the time, a few days after the election, Russia had not yet shown public support for Lukashenko.
“You have to keep in mind that this was before the talks between Putin and Lukashenko. Russia is still not helping Belarus, so they wanted to be discreet. “
The Russian lawyer of the former policeman confirmed the details of Ostapovici’s trip for The Moscow Times, mentioning that in his opinion, the Russian security services escorted him back to Belarus. Russia’s security services and the Belarusian Investigative Committee did not respond to requests to comment on Ostapovich’s reports.
“Most likely, he was brought to Belarus by the Russian security services. I doubt it was a helping hand from some good Samaritans, “Veaceslav Golovin told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty shortly after his client was taken back to the country.
Five days in a forest
The policeman who became an opponent reported that shortly after the departure of the Russian van, a Belarusian police van appeared, at which point he fled to hide in a forest. He survived here for five days with Snickers. He hadn’t had time to pick up other luggage from the hotel in Pskov. For two days he hid from the police, so that in the following days he would cover 70 kilometers. At one point, exhausted, he got stuck in a swamp, and the other night he was chased by a bear.
On September 3, three weeks after posting on Instagram, he managed to cross the border into Poland. He has had the help of some people in his path whom he does not name for safety reasons. In Belarus he is now accused of “illegal actions of a state official”,
Ostapovich believes that in a small country like Belarus, any desertion like his has the potential to weaken the regime.
According to human rights organizations, activists were detained in the early days of the protests and nothing has been known about them for some time. The director of a military museum who allegedly refused to sign an electoral protocol according to which Lukashenko is the winner of the elections was found dead two weeks later, according to Belarusian media reports.