Update: February 16, 2024:  The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service has stated that Aleksei Navalny died in a Russian prison colony 40 miles north of the Arctic Circle. He was 47.  Navalny was last seen in a Court hearing via video link, smiling behind bars and making jokes.  TeachWithMovies celebrates the life of this martyr for democracy.

In Memoriam: Navalny to the Russian People: “My message for the situation when I am killed, is very simple: Not give up!  … Listen I’ve got something very obvious to tell you. You are not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power, to not give up, to remember we are a huge power that is being oppressed by these bad dudes. We don’t realize how strong we actually are. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing. So, don’t be inactive!”

— World-Russia; Post-Cold War Era

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage, Ambition, Human Rights, Leadership, Male Role Model (Navalny)

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility, Citizenship

AGE — 15 and up.

Documentary, Rated R (Based on our review of this film it is appropriate for anyone 15 years of age and up.) In Russian and English, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Watch on CNN platforms and HBO Max.

DESCRIPTION — This film introduces Alexei Navalny, the recently-killed Russian anti-corruption activist, politician, and dissident. It describes the first effort of the Russian government in 2020 to murder him using the nerve poison Novichok, Navalny’s evacuation for recuperation in a German hospital, the detective work that identified the agents of the Russian security service who tried to kill him, the unwitting confession of one of the government’s would-be assassins, Navalny’s return to Russia, and his ultimate imprisonment. Navalny was a charming charismatic figure always alive to the humor of the situations of his life. His willingness to sacrifice his freedom and his life for a democratic Russia is inspiring.

Click here for tributes to Navalny assessing his place in history.

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Students will be shown a contemporary example of personal and moral courage.  They will learn about the brutal dictatorship of Vladimir Putin and be introduced to the history of despotism in Russia.


There is some use of everyday profanity.  No 15-year-old will be shocked by these words.


Watch the film with your child.  Talk about the differences or similarities in the political system of your country and that of Russia.


Awards:  2022 Academy Award for Best Documentary, 2022 BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Best Documentary – and many other awards.

Cast: Alexi Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalnaya, Christo Grozev, Leonid Vokov, and Maria Pevchikh

Director: Daniel Roher


Russia was ruled for centuries by a series of warlords, dukes, and autocratic rulers, culminating in the reign of the Tsars from 1547 – 1917.  There was a brief experiment with representative government in 1917 and 1918 which ended with the Bolshevik takeover and the creation of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin took power in 1922 and ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist until his death in 1952. The term “Stalinist” has come to mean the tactics of a harsh totalitarian regime. After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, there was another brief period when some fair elections influenced the government, ending with the accession to power of Vladimir Putin in 1999. Putin has consolidated his power since that time and is now an absolute dictator employing increasingly Stalinist tactics to stay in power.  The deaths of Yevgeny Prigozhin (2023), in a suspicious plane crash, and Alexei Navalny (2024), in a Russian prison camp, are examples of the Russian police state in action during the reign of Vladimir Putin.

Historical Accuracy: The film appears to be historically accurate.


Important lines from the film:

  • Russian woman in the crowd that came to greet Navalny on his return from recuperation in Germany: “Since Navalny decided to come back, we have to greet him because he is now the symbol of Russia’s freedom.”
  • Russian passport clerk to Yulia Navalnaya after Navalny has been arrested and led away: “Thank you — and your husband”
  • Navalny: As I became more famous guy, I was totally sure that my life became safer and safer because I am like famous guy and it would be problematic for them to just kill me.

Interviewer: And boy were you wrong.

Navalny: Yes, I was very wrong.

  • Protester: “He’s a good man who could have left Russia. He didn’t. He has always told the truth.”
  • Navalny, referring to the fact that the Russian government used Novichok in the murder attempt: “What the f…? That is so stupid.”
  • Navalny, referring to the fact that in his last trip to Siberia to make a film about local corruption, there were no police trying to interfere with making the documentary: “Seriously? I’m here—where is my police?”
  • Navalny: referring to Christo Grozev, the reporter showin in the film: A “very kind Bulgarian nerd with a laptop.”
  • Interviewer: Alexei, If you are arrested or thrown in prison or if the unthinkable happens and you are killed. What message do you leave behind for the Russian People?

Navalny: My message for the situation when I am killed, is very simple: Not give up!

  • Navalny’s message to the Russian People: Listen I’ve got something very obvious to tell you. You are not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power, to not give up, to remember we are a huge power that is being oppressed by these bad dudes. We don’t realize how strong we actually are. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing. So, don’t be inactive! Click here for a clip from the film of this question and Navalny’s response.

Alexei Navalny

Born in 1976, Navalny trained as an attorney and became an anti-corruption fighter and a politician.

In 2010 he exposed a $4 billion embezzlement scheme at the state-run oil pipeline operator, Transneft, by posting leaked documents online.  He then established the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).

Navalny ran unsuccessfully for several offices, including mayor of Moscow and President of the Russian Federation.

In 2020 Navalny almost died of poisoning, apparently by agents of the Russian government. Bowing to international pressure, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin allowed a comatose and dying Navalny to be taken to Germany for treatment. This was probably because Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, a highly toxic Russian nervous system poison that was thought to disappear from the body after a few hours.  It appears that Putin was not aware that Novichok could be traced by blood tests developed by Western scientists.  Navalny recovered in Germany and on January 17, 2021, returned to Russia, only to be arrested and put in prison.

Navalny reported that most of the time he was in prison he was in solitary confinement for infractions such as not buttoning his collar, not cleaning the prison yard well enough, and addressing a prison official by his military rank rather than the more respectful name and patronymic (a name derived from the name of a father or ancestor). Navalny was also punished for trying to start a labor union among the prisoners during the brief periods he was not in solitary..

In early August 2023, Navalny was convicted of “extremism” at a secret trial.  He was convicted and sentenced to 19 years in a special regime penal colony with harsh conditions. He was eventually sent to a penal colony 40 miles from the Arctic Circle. He died there in February of 2024.

Early in his career as a politician Navalny associated with Russian political parties that had a nationalist, racist, fascist agenda. In the movie he justifies his actions in this way:

Navalny:  Within all my career I’ve been asked the same 15 questions all the time.  Are you really afraid? Are you working for Kremlin? What is your family doing?  You have a responsibility for your family. When if it’s foreign journalists, they’re asking about nationalism and Russian March.  …

Interviewer:  Hold on. … Were there not a couple of Nazi guys at that March?  Certainly a “Sieg Heiler” would be a different category that you would not want to associate with or march beside.

Navalny:  Well in the normal world, in the normal political system, of course, I would never be in the same political party with them. But we are creating coalition, broader coalition to fight the regime, just to achieve the situation where everyone can participate in election.

Interviewer:  A lot of politicians would be uncomfortable even associating or being in the same photograph one of these guys.  Are you’re comfortable with that?

Navalny: I’m OK with that and I consider it, it’s my political superpower. I can talk to everyone. Anyway, well they are citizen of the Russian Federation and if I want to fight Putin, if I want to be a leader of a country, I cannot just ignore the huge part of it. Well, there are a lot of people who call themselves a nationalist. [So, I would say to them:] “OK let’s discuss it.” We’re living the country when they are poisoning and politician and killing people and arresting people for nothing. So of course, I am totally fine to sit with the guy whose rally looks kind of not very good for me.

Statements by Navalny on his 19-Year Sentence for “Extremism”

“The number [of years in the prison term] doesn’t matter. I understand very well that, like many political prisoners, I am serving a life sentence. Where life is measured by the duration of my life or the life of this regime.

“The number from verdict is not for me. It is for you.

“They want to frighten you [the Russian people], not me, and deprive you of the will to resist. You are being forced to surrender your Russia without a fight to a gang of traitors, thieves, and scoundrels who have seized power. Putin should not achieve his goal. Don’t lose the will to resist.”


Navalny wrote in a series of social media posts on the eve of his sentencing, referring to the length of the sentence he expected to receive:

“Its main purpose is to intimidate. You, not me. I’ll even say this: you personally, who are reading these words.

“To be honest, we always help Putin’s strategy of intimidation by throwing hysterics and clutching at our hearts over every arrest. . . . We must not forget about anyone, but at the same time, we must firmly realize that power in Russia has been usurped and illegally seized.

“Support political prisoners. Paint graffiti. Go to a rally,” he added. “There is no shame in choosing the safest way to resist. There is shame in doing nothing. It’s shameful to let yourself be intimidated.” (emphasis supplied)

Christo Grozev

Christo Grozev is a Bulgarian-born, award-winning investigative reporter and a media entrepreneur.  He is the lead Russia investigator at the independent journalism group Bellingcat and is on the most wanted list of the Russian Federation for disseminating “fake news” – a criminal violation in Russia.

Grozev uses open-source digital tools in his investigations.  He has reported on Russia’s involvement in the following high-profile international crimes:  the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014 which killed 283 passengers and 15 crew; the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom (Mr. Skirpal is a former Russian military officer and a double agent serving British intelligence; he was imprisoned by the Russians but exchanged for Russian spies in 2010; in 2018, while living in England, he was poisoned with Novichok by Russian government operatives); and the 2020 poisoning of Alexei Navalny (again with Novichok). Note that the Russian government denies responsibility for any of these attacks.

Grozev and his team from Bellingcat received the 2019 Investigative Reporting Award from the European Press Prize for identifying the two men who allegedly poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In 2022 Grozev and Bellingcat were awarded the Innovation in International Reporting Award by the International Center for Journalists.

Due to concerns that his presence would lead to attacks from persons displeased with his reporting that would endanger other attendees, Mr. Grozev was asked not to attend the 2023 BAFTA awards ceremony where the film Navalny was awarded the prize for the Best Documentary.  He did attend the 2023 Academy Awards ceremony held on March 12, 2023, in Hollywood, CA where the film received the same award.

About the Often Quoted Statement that: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

This statement is often attributed to Sir Edmund Burke an Irish philosopher, economist, and statesman.  However, there is no evidence that Burke used those exact words.  In his “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770), Burke wrote: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”  Pg 120;

The philosopher John Stuart Mill said, in a similar vein:

Since every country stands in numerous and various relations with the other countries of the world, and many, our own among the number, exercise actual authority over some of these, a knowledge of the established rules of international morality is essential to the duty of every nation, and therefore of every person in it who helps to make up the nation, and whose voice and feeling form a part of what is called public opinion. Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject. It depends on the habit of attending to and looking into public transactions, and on the degree of information and solid judgment respecting them that exists in the community, whether the conduct of the nation as a nation, both within itself and towards others, shall be selfish, corrupt, and tyrannical, or rational and enlightened, just and noble.”
― John Stewart Mill, Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St Andrews, 2/1/1867

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Q: Who is responsible for the attempted poisoning and now the death of Alexei Navalny?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct response. Any reasoned response should be respected. Here is a possible response. Because Putin is the absolute dictator of Russia, it was either Putin or someone in the Russian security services who wanted to please Putin.


Q: What is the advantage to Putin and the current Russian regime to have Navalny killed?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct response. Any reasoned response should be respected.

Here is a possible response: Two reasons: first, it would suppress dissent by warning possible leaders of opponents to the Kremlin that if they became too successful, the regime would try to kill them; and second, it would remove a potential challenger to Putin’s power.


Q: Was the unsuccessful effort to poison Navalny in 2020 a failure from Putin’s standpoint?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct response. Any reasoned response should be respected. Here are some possible responses. (1) no, even if it wasn’t successful, the effort to poison Navalny warned would-be leaders of any movement to reform Russia’s government that the Kremlin would try to kill them in a painful way; and (2) yes, it was obviously a failure because Putin had to try again, this time when Navalny was in a government penal colony and totally under his control.

Q: Why did Navalny return to Russia and likely life imprisonment or death?

Suggested Response:

The only people who know the correct response to this question are Navalny and perhaps those closest to him. Any reasoned response should be respected. Here is a possible response: Navalny in the film tells a CNN reporter that he was going to return to Russia because, “I don’t want these, you know, groups of killers, exist in Russia. I don’t want Putin president. I don’t want him being Tsar of Russia. I want to go back and try to change it.” (The problem with this statement is that Navalny going back to Russia would change nothing because, most likely, he’d just be imprisoned or poisoned again; Navalny’s response could have been that he wanted to demonstrate that he was not afraid of Putin and the state security apparatus; fear is a major weapon of a totalitarian state.) Another possible reason could have been that working for the freedom of Russia was more dear to Navalny than life itself.There also could have been strategic considerations.  If Navalny had stayed in the West, the Russian security services would probably have tried to kill him again (as they tried to kill Skirpal and successfully killed others), and this time they might have succeeded in a way that could not be traced. Also, if Navalny went into exile it could have been said that he was abandoning his country.  If Navalny returned to Russia and was not put in prison, it would demonstrate the impotence of Putin. If he was put into prison on his return to Russia, as occurred, then he would be a living martyr.  If he had survived imprisonment, he would have had a chance of being released if Putin fell from power and was replaced by a democratic regime. Returning to Russia when he faced probable jail time and death gave power to Navalny’s message to his countrymen. The film shows a woman who was among the crowd waiting at the airport to greet Navalny on his return from Germany in 2021, saying, “Since Navalny decided to come back, we have to greet him because he is now the symbol of Russia’s freedom.”

Q: It is clear that to Alexei Navalny, freedom for Russia was more dear than life itself. Is there anything that is dearer to you than life itself? Is there anything that you would risk your life for, or suffer imprisonment for?

Suggested response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. Teachers can point out that for many Union soldiers in the Civil War, preservation of the Union and/or destroying the institutional sin of slavery, was more dear than life itself. For many soldiers in all wars, their country’s victory, or to resist being conquered (examples include: Ukraine, and the Allies in WW II) or, for soldiers in democratic countries, preservation of the democratic system of government against totalitarianism, is more dear than life itself.


Q: From the beginning of the Ukrainian War and after the first round of mobilization some 900,000 of Russia’s best and brightest people have emigrated or gone into exile. What advantage would it give to Putin for these talented people to leave the country?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct response. Any reasoned response should be respected. Here is a possible response: It removed many people who might be inclined to oppose his rule and the war in Ukraine.


Q: In the film, after Navalny has been arrested and led away to jail, as Yulia Navalnaya is being processed by a Russian passport clerk, he says something interesting. What is it? Why is it interesting?

Suggested Response:

“Thank you – and your husband.” It is interesting because a low-level functionary of the Russian government, a Russian “man-in-the-street,” is willing to run the risk of expressing sympathy and support for Navalny.


Q: In clips shown in the film, how does Putin refer to Navalny and why does he do that?

Suggested Response:

Several ways, including, “the citizen mentioned …,” “the character you mentioned …,” and “that person in the Berlin clinic,” but never by name. The film shows Putin telling the world his reasons. At his news conference, Putin claims to be above Navalny and that Navalny has no standing to oppose the President of the Russian Federation. According to Putin, naming Navalny would validate Navalny as someone worthy of challenging Putin for the Presidency.

Q: One reviewer said that the film brought to his mind a line from Bertolt Brecht’s 1943 play “Life of Galileo”: “Unhappy the land that needs heroes.” There are two questions here: What does the quoted phrase mean and what relevance does the experience of Galileo Galilei have to the life of Alexi Navalny?

Suggested Response:

Societies that are not facing important challenges to their existence or their most important values, don’t need heroes. Only societies in deep crisis need heroes. The parallels and differences between the stories of Galileo and Navalny are that Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition for heresy and required to recant his findings that the Earth revolves around the sun. At that time Catholic orthodoxy held that the Earth was the center of the Universe, and the Church was trying to resist the rising tide of science. But the society of Medieval Europe needed to get beyond the natural philosophy of the ancients, exemplified by the ideas of Aristotle and Ptolemy, and transition to the Age of Discovery.   Some of Galileo’s contemporaries were imprisoned or even burned at the stake for their heretical ideas about science and nature, ideas that later turned out to be correct. To save himself from that fate, Galileo, unlike Navalny, appeared to knuckle under the demands of the Inquisition to some extent and was given house arrest instead of death.  To the extent that Galileo  caved in to the Inquisition’s demand that he renounce his discoveries, he did not act  heroically.  Navalny, however, did.


Q: In August 2023, Navalny, already in prison, was sentenced to a 19-year prison term after a secret trial. Navalny wrote that the number of years in the sentence doesn’t matter to him and that, anyway, like other political prisoners, he was under a life sentence. In this statement about his life sentence, he was referring to more than his own life as the possible length of his sentence. What other life was he referring to?

Suggested Response:

It was the life of the regime. If Putin was overthrown by democratic forces, Navalny would be released if he survived. Navalny said, “I understand very well that, like many political prisoners, I am serving a life sentence, where life is measured by the duration of my life or the life of this regime.”


Q: Navalny said that the number of years on his sentence was a message for someone other than for him. Who was it for? What was it for?

Suggested Response:

The sentence was not for Navalny but for all other Russians, to intimidate them. Navalny said it, “The number from verdict is not for me. It is for you.”


Q: What is Moscow4?

Suggested Response:

It is a story exemplifying the stupidity of the Russian bureaucracy. The top member of the Russian intelligence service used the password, “Moscow1.” When his account was hacked, he changed the password to “Moscow2.” When that account was hacked he changed his password to “Moscow3.” See a clip of the scene from the film in which Navalny explains this.


1. How would you compare the courage of a soldier who exposes himself or herself to enemy fire and the courage of Alexei Navalny?

Suggested Response: 

There is no one correct response.  Any reasoned response should be respected.Here is a possible response.  There are great similarities because each of them are putting his or her life and bodily integrity on the line. Each is facing death and/or years of physical pain and incapacity.



See Assignments for use with any documentary.

Students can be asked to write reports on relevant topics such as:

  • The life and career of Alexei Navalny;
  • The life and career of Christo Grozev;
  • Bellingcat – the origin of the name and the achievements of the organization;
  • A comparison of Putin and Stalin;
  • The career of Vladimir Putin; or
  • The history of democracy and representative government in Russia.


Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.


A Statement by Navalny:

‘I can’t stand the goat, but I hate those who let it get the cabbage’ — After receiving a 19-year prison sentence, Alexey Navalny lays into the liberal opposition and independent media for legitimizing the regime they should have resisted.

Click here to read the statement.










Articles linked within the Learning Guide.

This Learning Guide was written by James A. Frieden. It was published on August 21, 2023 and updated February 16, 2024.

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