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Ukrainian language pushed out of Crimean schools

Halya Coynash

The Russian Education Ministry has announced that teachers of Ukrainian language and literature in Crimean schools will be retrained as teachers of Russian.  Not only is the main language of tuition changing at the Ukrainian Lyceum in Simferopol, but a Russian flag has now been raised over it.

Even before its military intervention and annexation of the Crimea, Russia had long accused the Ukrainian authorities of violating the rights of Russian speakers.  Although Russian is the main language of communication in the Crimea and the European Charter of Regional or Minority Language did not find such infringements, Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia’s intervention was in response to calls for protection.

There were, in fact, only five Ukrainian language schools in the Crimea (against 500 Russian-language).  As reported, the long-term head of the Ukrainian lyceum in Simferopol, Natalya Rudenko was forced to resign in April.  Later that month, on April 22, it was decided that from next school year students can choose the language of tuition. According to Natalya Goncharova, education minister in the government installed after armed soldiers seized government buildings on Feb 27, the language of tuition in the Russian Federation is Russian.  Parents can, however, request that their children study in another language.  Goncharova says  that 328 such applications have been received.  On the other hand, it will only be possible to study in Ukrainian up till the ninth grade.  In the tenth and eleventh only Russian will be available.  This would mean that students were studying in one language, then having to change during the two critical years for anybody wishing to go on to university.  The disadvantage this would put them at makes it highly unlikely that many parents will choose this option.

Flags are presently flying (as is required by Russian legislation) over 3 schools in the Crimea, with this number likely to increase.

With respect to the Russian flag over the school in Simferopol, Natalya Rudenko is scathing.  She says that there was never a national flag on the roof of the school, only inside and sees the move as a cynical demonstration. She adds that it is customary for flags to be raised over state institutions, not schools.  The acting head, Yelena Beznishchenko however asserts that the flag is legal. “We live in the Russian Federation, there is a rule about Russian flags flying, and so we’ve raised it”.  

There was clearly no discussion by the parents’ committee and parents were confronted with a fait accompli. Some have already expressed concern about the changes – not only with respect to the flag -  and want the school to continue as it was.

Judging by the moves already taken since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, little is likely to remain as it was.

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