VOLGOGRAD: In the bedroom of his modest apartment in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, ex-university lecturer Roman Melnichenko has two bags packed: one if he goes to prison, the other if he has to flee.
“I have to be ready,” the 49-year-old says.
Melnichenko taught law in Volgograd, known as Stalingrad in Soviet times, for 25 years before he was fired in April for speaking out against Russia’s military action in Ukraine.
He is battling in court for the right to keep teaching, while facing other legal troubles after he was charged with spreading “false” information about the conflict.
Teachers have been under increasing pressure in Russia for years as authorities cracked down on free speech, with many dismissed for alleged “immoral conduct” after they criticised the government or challenged the country’s increasing conservatism.
This has intensified since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in late February, and Melnichenko said he understands why.
“The intellectual elite has the power to make the ruling elite lose the foundations of its power, that’s why there is such a harsh reaction against universities,” the moustachioed former senior lecturer at Volgograd State University told AFP.
Melnichenko was fired for “immoral conduct” after sharing social media posts denouncing Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, despite agreeing to a request from the university to delete the posts.
He was also detained by police at the university and accused of spreading “false” information – one of the many Russians who have fallen foul of new restrictions against criticising the offensive.
‘In shock for three months’
At the police station, he made the symbolic move of demanding a Ukrainian translator – a right under Russian law – but was refused.
Melnichenko may live in Russia, but he has a deep connection to Ukraine.
His parents live in Nikopol, a city in southern Ukraine close to the front line.
“I have been in shock for the past three months. These are my parents,” he said with tears in his eyes.
In June, a court found Melnichenko guilty of an administrative charge and ordered him to pay a fine of 30,000 rubles (about $500) – roughly his monthly salary.
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