As It Happens

This Russian teacher refused to show kids propaganda about Ukraine. It cost him his job

A Moscow geography teacher says was fired and forced to flee the country after refusing to teach his students the government-approved curriculum about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kamran Manafly fled the country for an undisclosed location after being called an ‘agent of the West'

Kamran Manafly, 28, says he lost his job at School Number 498 in Moscow after he refused to teach Russian war propaganda and said as much on Instagram. (Kamran Manafly/Instagram)

Story Transcript

A Moscow geography teacher says he was fired and forced to flee the country after refusing to teach his students the government-approved curriculum about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kamran Manafly, 28, says he lost his job at School Number 498 two days after he took a stance against teaching war propaganda to students in Grades 5 through 9, and posted about it on Instagram. 

"I had to do that because, you know, I don't want to be a person who wants to lie to the students," Kamran Manafly, 28, told As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay. "That's not OK. That's not right."

Manafly has since left the country for fear of further reprisal, and CBC is not disclosing his location. He is one of several anti-war Russians who have been fired, fined or even jailed for speaking out against the war in Ukraine. 

The school did not respond to a request for comment.

Manafly's troubles began earlier this month, he says, when the school asked teachers to conduct presentations and distribute documents outlining the Russian government's stance on the invasion of Ukraine — something Moscow has repeatedly called a "special military operation" aimed at liberating Ukrainians.

"It was kind of propaganda lessons," Manafly said. "It was the point of view of the government…. Teachers need to teach students critical thinking, not the government position."

It wasn't about my political views. It just was about the freedom of speech."- Kamran Manadly, fired geography teacher

Not only did he refuse to comply, he says, but on March 8, he posted about the experience on Instagram.

"You have to live with a clear conscience. Recently at school I was told, 'You can't have an opinion that's different from the official government position.' I do have my own opinion. And it's not just me, many other teachers have their own opinion. And you know what? It's not the same as the state!" he wrote.

"I don't want to be a mirror of government propaganda. I'm proud of not being afraid to write about it. I'm proud to be a teacher! My conscience is clear. I love every single student I've had, currently have or will have."

Soon after, he says he was called into the principal's office and told to take the post down. He refused. Two days later, he was fired.

He noted that he didn't say "anything about the war" on social media. 

"It wasn't about my political views," he said. "It just was about the freedom of speech."

That said, he is against the war.

"I didn't see any reasons for the war," he told Findlay. "I also said that to my students, to my kids, that we want to be and that we need to be peaceful people."

Manafly says only one of the school's 150 teachers have supported him, and school officials even accused of being a paid "agent of the West" who is in league with jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

That, he says, is why he ultimately decided to leave the country. 

"Nowadays in Russia, it's very easy to go to jail. It's very easy to have problems with the governmental police," he said. "One word will be enough for that."

Free speech crackdown

Manafly is not alone in facing the ramifications for speaking out about Russia's actions in Ukraine. Thousands of Russians have been detained by police for protesting the war. Last week, a Russian journalist who held up an anti-war sign on state TV was arrested and fined

Several independent media outlets have been either censored or shut down since the start of the war. Most foreign media, including CBC, have left the country after it passed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for anyone found to be intentionally spreading what it called "fake" news.

"I do not want to be dramatic but [our journalists] are in grave danger right now," Galina Timchenko, editor-in-chief of Meduza, Russia's biggest independent news outlet, told As It Happens after the law was passed. 

Timchenko operates Meduza out of Latvia to avoid censorship, but says she still has several reporters on the ground inside the country. 

"We refused to follow their orders. We are against censorship. We call the war a war."

Manafly says it hasn't always been this way. 

"Maybe five years ago, four years ago … there was a freedom in our schools," he said. "But right now, it's [getting] worse, day by day."

He hopes to return to Russia one day, but with the war raging on and the crackdown on free speech intensifying, he's not sure when or if that will be possible.

"The situation is very unpredictable," he said. "I don't think that there will be any possibility in one or two years to go back to Russia. But I hope so. I hope so. I really hope so."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Olsy Sorokina. Interviews produced by Kevin Robertson.

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