Funded largely out of Mr Melnikov’s pocket and responding to online tips or phone calls, Alternativa has freed at least 500 people from exploitative situations in Russia with its unique brand of vigilante activism.
“We act with legal and sometimes not very legal methods, and we have a big percent of successful operations,” Mr Melnikov previously told the Telegraph. “We’re not simple volunteers, we can fight back.”
Many of those liberated had been offered work or drugged in Moscow train stations and then bussed to the southern region of Dagestan, where their documents were taken from them and they were forced to work on farms or rural brick factories for little or no money.
More than 1 million people are being held against their will in Russia, according to Australian-based NGO Walk Free.
Alternativa activists typically bypass law enforcement, attempting to spirit people away before their captors realise what’s going on, but have sometimes clashed with corrupt cops and come to blows with owners.
“We have one golden hour. We should have already left by the time that golden hour ends,” Mr Melnikov said. “But if we take away the owner’s phone, and he is handcuffed to the radiator, then we have plenty of time.”