For geography teacher Kamran Manafli, 28, it all started with an Instagram post.
Written on the social network, just days before it was restricted in Russia. “I have my own opinion! Many teachers do. And you know what? It’s not the same as the state’s opinion.”
He felt compelled to write the commentary after a staff meeting at his high school in central Moscow, where he and his classmates were instructed to talk to their students about the situation in Ukraine – so as not to deviate from the government’s position.
Two hours after posting, he received a call from the principal telling him to immediately delete the post or quit his job.
“I didn’t want to erase it,” Manafli told the BBC. “I knew right away that there was no point in arguing, so I thought it was best to quit.”
When he arrived at school the next day, hoping to pick up his things and sign his letter of resignation, he was denied entry to the building.
“They said they had an order not to let me in. The kids started to go out into the street to support me, say goodbye, etc. Then someone called the police and said I was organizing an unauthorized demonstration,” he says.
Videos watched by the BBC showed children crowding around my house, clapping, smiling and saying goodbye.
He eventually got his belongings back and the next day was able to meet the principal, who asked for an official explanation as to why the teacher had expressed his political views on social media. Manafli refused, hoping to quit anyway, but was told the situation had changed and he would be fired.
“Two days later, I learned that I was fired for unethical behavior at work,” Manafli said. “What is most strange to me is that they consider it immoral to express a personal opinion.”
The school’s principal did not respond to a request for comment, but in WhatsApp messages accessed by the BBC, the school’s parents were told that Manafli’s social media posts had violated an employment agreement with employers, which he denies.
suppression of “false” information
after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24Thousands of Russians, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have expressed their opposition to the so-called “special military operation”, signing petitions, posting on social media or participating in street protests against the war.
The state responded harshly, detaining thousands of protesters and introducing a new law that punishes the dissemination of “false” information about the Russian military with up to 15 years in prison.
However, Manafly’s Instagram post did not violate this law, according to the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which published it in full even after the new legislation took effect.
Katya Dolinina lost her job after signing an open letter against Russia’s “special operation” – Image: Personal Archive/BBC
Despite the increased risks, for Katya Dolinina, the invasion of Ukraine was the moment when she could no longer be silent. Dolinina, director of cinemas at the state-run Moschino network, used to keep her political views to herself.
“I loved my job and I liked it. I didn’t want to lose it,” she told the BBC, explaining why she had not participated in previous anti-government protests.
But when the war started, that changed. When her friends sent her an open letter against the so-called “special operation”, signed by people working in the cultural sector, she did not hesitate to add her name.
She adds: “I agreed with the view that these operations should be stopped immediately, and that this was not true.”
Soon after signing the letter, Dolinina received a call from her boss. She should delete her name immediately, or resign. She was told if she refused to do either, she would be fired. Moschino Network did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.
“I just felt like it didn’t matter anymore. I don’t know how I would work anyway if they didn’t ask me to quit. After starting this particular process, I don’t feel any motivation to do anything that has nothing to do with it,” he says.
She said she quit without fanfare, because she was worried that her employers would find an excuse to fire her, which might cause more problems for her in the future.
The entire process of finishing her job only took a few hours, and the atmosphere at the last meeting with her managers was cordial – they told Dolinina that they were sad to see her leave, though she now wonders if this was just to avoid conflict.
But for Anna Levadnaya, a pediatrician and influencer with more than two million followers on Instagram, the meeting where she found out she had to quit was friendly.
Anna Levadnaya, a doctor and social media influencer, was embarrassed in front of more than 100 colleagues – Image: Personal Archive/BBC
She was on vacation abroad when the invasion of Ukraine began. That day, he posted a photo on Instagram of a plane window, with a picture of a peace dove.
“I did not choose aggression,” she wrote. “I’m afraid of all of us.” She described her family’s Ukrainian roots and called for an end to “this hell” as soon as possible.
With so many followers on Instagram, the post is unlikely to go unnoticed by her employer, a major state medical center in Moscow.
Days later, Levadnaya, still abroad, heard from his colleagues that the director of the medical center criticized his anti-war statements during the morning conference in front of more than 100 of his colleagues. She received a video recording of the event.
“It was a public embarrassment,” Levadnaya told the BBC. They made it clear that whoever does not support the government’s goals should not work in a government institution.
The director gave a speech, which lasted several minutes, explaining that if Livadnaya had been better informed about world events, she would support “Special Operation”. Soon, she was asked to write a letter of resignation and if she refused, she would be fired.
His message consists of one sentence, simply stating that it would be “impossible to continue with your work”.
In his social media posts, Levadnaya explains current medical issues in an engaging way that makes sense to his audience. I’ve learned to live with online trolls (users who make aggressive comments only to provoke) and angry comments, she says, but the invasion of Ukraine has taken the situation to a different level.
“Even the vaccines against Covid, which generated so much aggression, did not cause so much hatred among the people as this war. There is so much division in society now, because everyone only believes in their own truth,” says the health specialist.
Their lives have been turned upside down by the war in Ukraine.
Some lost their jobs, others resigned in protest. Family relationships became strained, often due to generational divisions.
For Kamran Manafli and others, the only option was to leave the country. But not everyone can, or doesn’t want to, take this step.
“Not every Russian who disagrees with the Kremlin’s propaganda can leave this country,” said Katya Dolinina. “We are still here. We still have hope. We try not to give up.”
“Gamers. Unfortunate Twitter teachers. Zombie pioneers. Internet fans. Hardcore thinkers.”