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21.05.2018 | Halya Coynash

The only ‘Ukrainian school’ left in occupied Crimea teaches in Russian

Meeting in Simferopol on 9.03.2015 marking the birth date of Taras Shevchenko. Four men were detained and prosecuted for a 'prohibited symbol' - the Ukrainian flag3
   

A year after the International Court of Justice at the Hague ordered Russia “to ensure availability of education in the Ukrainian language” in occupied Crimea,  the only remaining ‘Ukrainian school’ does not a single class taught in Ukrainian. 

School No. 20 in Feodosia does claim, both on the website in Ukrainian which stopped being updated in January 2016, and in a Russian-language version, that classes are available in Ukrainian and in Russian.  The Crimean Human Rights Group has, however, learned from both students at the school and their parents that this is not the case.

In its report on ‘the situation with education in state (Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar) languages and the study on native languages’, the Russian-controlled ‘Crimean education ministry’ cites this school with fictitious teaching in Ukrainian.  The Crimean Human Rights Group [CHRG] notes that this is not the first time that the ‘ministry’s assertion on that site are at odds with the actual situation.

The ministry provides a list of seven Crimean schools which it claims provided Ukrainian language classes for the 2017/2018 school year.  CHRU has information that the only Ukrainian class at Lycée No. 11 in Simferopol was stopped back in 2016 and now Ukrainian is only available as an optional extra course. 

The claim that Zuysk Secondary School No. 2 in the Belogorsk district has classes taught in the Crimean Tatar language also clashes with the information which CHRG has, namely that children are taught in Russian.

It was evident soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea that the Ukrainian language was being pushed out of Crimean schools.  Oleksandr Sedov from the Crimean Human Rights Group recently described the forms of intimidation used.  At the parents’ meetings at the end of each school year, parents are “asked to decide” what language they want their children to study in, while being strongly ‘advised’ by the teachers and school head to choose Russian.

He noted also that “people are simply afraid to demonstrate their Ukrainian identity since the propaganda is making Ukrainians into ‘enemies of the people’”

In March 2017, the UN’s International Court of Justice began preliminary hearings into Ukraine’s claim that Russia is violating two UN conventions - the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism through its role in the military conflict in Donbas, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea.

The Court accepted prima facie jurisdiction over both claims (dashing Russia’s hopes that the claims would be rejected).  Importantly, it also agreed that provisional measures were required in occupied Crimea, pending a final ruling.  It ordered that Russia withdraw its extraordinary ban on the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, which is the self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea.  It also ordered Russia to ensure access to education in Ukrainian.  The latter vote was unanimous, while that regarding the Mejlis was by a majority of 13 against 3.  

The Court ruling was extremely important though few believed that Russia would keep its commitment and obey the ruling.  It was, however, assumed that they might try to make some cosmetic improvements to the situation with Ukrainian. 

In fact, this has not happened, with Russia seemingly relying on lies presented on the occupation ministry website and the information vacuum it has deliberately created through restrictions on the media and on human rights and other monitors. 

The Crimean Human Rights Group is therefore asking people in Crimea to inform them of any restrictions on studying in Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar.

As reported earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that its actions in early 2014 were needed to ‘protect’ ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in Crimea. On the eve of that invasion, 90.7% of school students studied in Russian; 6.5% in Ukrainian; and 2.7% in Crimean Tatar.  99.2% of all Crimean children studied Russian as a subject.  There were 7 schools with the entire program in Ukrainian and 15 in Crimean Tatar, as well as several schools with two languages.

Russia wasted no time in ensuring that even that top-heavy situation became still further stacked against Ukrainian and, to a lesser extent, Crimean Tatar.  By 2014/2015 school year only one of 532 schools in Crimea had a full program in Ukrainian, and the overall number of classes in Ukrainian had fallen from 875 to 163.   By 2016, there were only 28 classes, meaning that only 371 children were receiving education in Ukrainian.  This was 0.2% of the overall number of children at school in Crimea.

While there has been a reduction in the already small number of schools with lessons taught in Crimean Tatar, the drop is modest in comparison (the number of schools fell from 384 to 348, for example).

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