Orwellian Theme

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell, the Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian novel

Similar to George Orwell’s Oceania, russia also likes to re-write the history, especially in the seized territories. They are doing it in the 2014 annexed Crimea; in the captured parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and now in the newly occupied territories of Ukraine. putin’s cohort realized that the entry point to changing history is in schools. That is why Ukrainian education today is one of the key targets for pressure from russian occupiers.

The first month into the academic year made it abundantly clear what ideological strategies russians test-drive in the captured Ukrainian lands. Then, following the results of fake referenda, they plan to include the territory into the totalitarian empire. 

russia Wants to Control the Past and Burns Ukrainian Books

“Since day one of the occupation, russians, have prioritized education. As soon as their troops entered the newly occupied territories, they immediately started planning the organization of education process in order to establish control over the public opinion and society at large,” says Askad Ashurbekov, a deputy at the Zaporizhzhia regional council, live on YouTube channel “OPORA Speaks.”

In the captured Ukrainian lands, occupying authorities immediately announced the shift to russian curricula. In parallel, they started withdrawing Ukrainian books from school and church libraries, specifically the textbooks on the history of Ukraine. For example, the occupiers withdrew from the schools in Luhansk region ab. 22,000 textbooks on the history of Ukraine and took them for parts unknown. In Mariupol, the occupiers went even further and burnt down all books from the library of Petro Mohyla church.

The purpose of such action is to build a new perception of reality and understanding of history in the occupied territories. This new reality will be avoiding the truth but rely on contrivance and fantasies of the russian state propaganda. In this reality, russia will be featured not as an aggressor that attacked Ukraine, destroyed Mariupol, and committed crimes in Bucha and Irpin. Russia does not wish to be considered an aggressor, they want to feature as liberators. This is the idea that the propaganda imposes on local people in the captured territories. And they started from schools.

How russia Exerts Pressure on Ukrainian Teachers and Parents in TOTs

After destroying Ukrainian books, aggressors started opening schools where children now have to study under russian curriculum. The occupiers are searching for loyal educators but there are few of them found. Most school principals and teachers who stayed in the occupied territories did not want to collaborate with the russians.

In that situation, russia started doing what they are best at: to suppress, to intimidate, and to abduct educators who refused to collaborate. Thus, for example, in the beginning of May, in Berdyansk, the occupiers abducted Olha Nikolayeva who used to teach Ukrainian language and literature in school No.3.

In the end of August, in the temporarily occupied Nova Kakhovka in Kherson region, the russian military abducted principals from lyceum No.2 and No.3, Oksana Yakubova and Iryna Dubas. As of now, their situation remains unknown. There are many other such cases. In the almost obliterated Mariupol being on the verge of humanitarian disaster, the occupiers threatened the teachers who refused to collaborate with restricted access to the “humanitarian” aid.

However, even those methods did not bring the desirable effect. The number of schools opened in the new academic year in the occupied territories is not big and the number of attending pupils is miniscule.

“The occupiers managed to launch their studies only in 10% of schools in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. At the same time, the attendance at those schools is not high. 15% at most,”  says Askad Ashurbekov.

Kherson region has a similar trend. It was informed in the Telegram channel by the deputy head of Kherson regional council, Yuriy Sobolevskyi.

“September, 1, did not go as the occupiers planned in the territory of the occupied Kherson region. All their attempts to incline as many teachers as possible to collaborate and parents to send their kids to be brainwashed by the “russian world” failed flat! There are few schools opened with the russian curriculum, and hardly any kids attending,” says the politician.

Having realized that intimidation of educators did not work, the occupiers started suppressing parents who were not willing to send their kids to the russia-captured schools. Those are the schools that are already trying hard  to destroy the personality of Ukrainian kids and suppress them psychologically. As wrong as it gets, the next worst thing is only physical violence.

“Parents continue to experience threats when they refuse to send their kids to the captured schools and kindergartens. The occupiers threaten with penalties and confiscation of property. Those who brought their kids to the so-called studies, are offered 4,000 rubles (1,200 UAH — A.B.) for each pupil. But still, the persons willing to do so are few,”  informs on his  Telegram channel the head of Kherson regional military administration, Yaroslav Yanushevych.

According to Askad Ashurbekov, in Zaporizhzhia region and in Mariupol, russians introduced the three-level system of sanctions: 1. warning; 2. a fine of 40,000 RUB (12,000 UAH — A.B.); 3. termination of parental rights.

In addition, in Mariupol, the collaborating teachers are sending out threatening messages to parents on Viber. The Mariupol mayor’s adviser, Petro Andriushchenko, assumes that collaborators have to do it because of the unheard-of low numbers of children in the schools of the occupied city.

“Educators who chose to collaborate with the occupiers send out messages to parents, en masse, and directly warn them that if the children live in the city but do not attend the occupation schools, they will be taken away from the families on a compulsory basis. That’s another crime against humanity on the move,” says Andriushchenko.

According to Askad Ashurbekov, in this context, some parents are compelled to send their kids to the schools opened by russians. However, he says that some of those kids also take the parallel remote classes from Ukrainian schools. “It is very important because Ukrainian government called on parents staying in the occupied territories that if they are unable to leave, because of pressure or other circumstances, they should by all means try to stick to the online classes in Ukrainian schools. Ukrainian school offers the chance for the future for those kids,” the MP believes.

At the same time, he says, Ukrainian authorities reiterate that going to offline schools organized by the occupiers may be dangerous for the life and health of their kids. It is not a rare case when russian troops arrange storage facilities for weapon in schools, and there is a high likelihood to have some provocative acts coming from russians and trying to accuse the Ukrainian Army of committing them.

russian Teachers in the TOTs and “Upskilling” the Collaborators

Despite the failures, russia continues to actively put the Ukrainian education process on the russian footing. Failing to find enough collaborators, the occupiers sent to the occupied territories the teachers from Crimea and russia who have to teach Ukrainian kids under the russian curriculum. Their precise numbers are not known, but it is at least several hundred. In the beginning of September, the Melitopol city mayor, Ivan Fedorov, told that the occupiers brought to the city over 500 russian teachers. Another 80 teachers coming from russia’s southern regions who went to work in the captured Ukrainian lands have been reported by the Radio Liberty project “Kavkaz.Realii” referring to the data from the “Alliance of Teachers” trade union.

After the gains of the Ukrainian Army in Kharkiv region, a story went viral about detention of several dozens of teachers from russia now staying in the liberated territories of Ukraine. It was informed on September, 12, in a comment to the Ukrainian media by the vice prime minister of Ukraine, Iryna Vereshchuk. However, several days after, the information was refuted in the General Prosecutor’s Office. The agency informed that Ukrainian law-enforcement officers have not arrested any russian teachers in the liberated territories of Kharkiv region. Now, it is hard to confirm whether there were any russian teachers in Kharkiv region. As of today, we only know one thing: there are certainly no any russian teachers in Kharkiv region after the retreat of the russian army.

It must be said that in addition to the imported teachers, the occupiers also rely on the collaborating local teachers to organize the learning process. russia started for them the “’re-certification” process to ‘upskill’ them. Those kind of training courses are especially relevant for history teachers. For example, a week before the counter-attack of the Ukrainian Army, teachers from Kharkiv region were taken to the training course to the russia’s Kursk region. In addition, the occupiers are bringing russian textbooks for the russian curriculum, and the textbooks by authors from the “LDPRs”.

Why Occupiers Want to Impose the Russianization of Education in TOTs

It is all obvious here, it is the element of russia’s strategy to destroy Ukraine as a state, Ukrainian nation, and ethnos. Ukrainians in the occupied territories are in for the russification. The occupiers find it important to have local citizens stop identifying themselves with Ukraine and become russians. After all, the more Ukrainian people become russian, the less Ukrainians remain. The less Ukrainians, the lower the resistance in the occupied territories – this is the rationale behind russian actions.

In fact, the school is the tool that may help the russian federation implement this strategy for long-term. The occupiers plan to teach all lessons to children in the russian language, under russian curriculum, where they will own part of Ukrainian past, such as the history of Kyivan Rus. This curriculum is going to name as heroes the historical persons who were fighting against Ukrainian statehood such as Peter the Great, Volodymyr Lenin, etc. On the contrary, important Ukrainian historical figures, such as Ivan Mazepa or Simon Petliura, will be presented in a negative light, and still others, such as Ivan Franko or Vasyl Stus, will be deleted from the school curriculum.

Moreover, the analysis of suchlike situations in the past allows to assume that this is how the occupiers are planning to “raise” the military force for further war on Ukraine. This kind of scenario was used by the rf when they mobilized for their armed forces the Ukrainian people from the earlier occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and from Crimea.

However, in addition to the fact that russia’s action in the captured territories remind their practices in the annexed Crimea and in the previously occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, they also follow the policy of the Soviet Union applied in the Western parts of Ukraine captured after the Second World War. This kind of resemblance was noticed by a Ukrainian historian and journalist, Vakhtang Kipiani.

“The ruzzians are bringing masses of teachers to the occupied territories. The subject they are going to teach is not that important. Their task is to turn Ukrainian kids into ruzzians, into soldiers of the rf army. We can observe this in Crimea and in Donbas. It is the story of the 1940s coming back. Sovietization of Ukraine’s Western regions was implemented, among other things, through teachers and university lecturers (you can try and find out how many subjects have been taught in russian in Lviv institutes as long as until perestroika),” writes in  Facebook the editor-in-chief of “Historical Truth.”

How Ukraine Organizes the Learning Process in TOTs

Despite the dire situation, Ukraine manages to organize the education process in the temporarily occupied territories. Presently, in TOTs, it is possible to study under the Ukrainian curriculum in an online remote mode, through external studies format, or as home-schooling. Offline studies under the Ukrainian curriculum are not possible yet.

Out of the listed three options, the most popular choice goes for the distance online learning. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ukrainian schools have the experience in organizing the format.

For example, in Kherson region, 95 general secondary schools will run the studies remotely. It was informed by the head of Education and Science Department of Kherson RMA, Tetiana  Yushko, during the annual regional teachers’ conference on August, 30. According to her, the administration received 44,500 requests from parents to organize the distance learning on the occupied territories. Most of them stay on the Ukrainian government-controlled territories or abroad. However, there are those who stay in the TOTs.

She also emphasized that it is important for Ukraine not to lose any connection with Ukrainian school pupils from the occupied territories. “Our task is not to lose any child wherever they stay territory-wise: either in the Ukrainian government-controlled areas, or abroad, or in the occupied territories. The current situation changes the school’s functions dramatically. Now, its main objective is to offer to children support and backup under the enemy’s pressure, and to restore the communication between children,” believes Tetiana Yushko.

Occupiers are horrified by the fact that Ukraine manages to organize the remote learning on TOTs. That is why they press the family members of school principals who left and organized online lessons from the Ukrainian government-controlled territories, or from abroad. However, all the effort has been in vain so far.

What shall Ukraine do to Resist russia’s Plans?

The answer is apparent: to de-occupy the russia-captured territories. However, while the counter-offensive of the Ukrainian Army continues (and may not be as quick as we would like it to see) Ukraine cannot afford to stop fighting for their people and lose any link with them.

Online learning in the Ukrainian school is one of the tools to maintain the link of Ukraine with our citizens in the occupied territories. That is why, despite russia’s pressure, our country shall continue to help our citizens evacuate from the occupied territories and search for technical solutions to facilitate access to remote learning.

Specially for ZN.UA