war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Invaders threaten to take children away if parents don’t send them to be indoctrinated ‘to love Russia’

Halina Coynash
Russia is speeding up attempts to impose ‘education’ according to a Russian curriculum and Russian narrative about its war against Ukraine by 1 September

Berdiansk residents protesting against the Russian invasion The placard reads You don’t need to feed us, stop killing us Photo from

Parents in occupied parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts have reported threats that their children will be taken from them if they refuse to send them to occupation schools from 1 September. Where evacuation is possible, parents are trying to leave as they do not want to collaborate and to have their children being brainwashed with lies about Russian ‘liberators’. 

Serhiy Danylov, a well-known Ukrainian academic from Kherson oblast, reports that in one of the villages currently under Russian occupations, the Russians first ‘did the rounds’ with teachers, and are now targeting parents.  They threaten to take the children away and ‘strip the parents of their rights’ if they do not send their children to Russian occupier-controlled ‘schools’ from 1 September.  Danylov points out that this is a vivid example of the attitude of Kherson oblast residents to the invaders, that the latter have to use threats and repression even to get children to school.

Ivan Fedorov, Mayor of Melitopol (Zaporizhzhia oblast) confirmed on 4 July that similar methods are being used by the Russian invaders of his city.  As reported, the Russians encountered considerable resistance in Melitopol and resorted, as they have everywhere, with methods of terror.  Iryna Shcherbak, Head of the Melitopol Department of Education, was abducted on 28 March, after she refused to collaborate with the Russians and restart schools under a Russian syllabus.  She remains in Russian captivity. Four school directors were also abducted, although they were later released.

Months later, there remains resistance from teachers and from parents.  Fedorov also mentioned that the Russians are threatening to deprive parents of their rights if they don’t sent their children to Russian-controlled schools.  Although it sounds absurd, he said, adding that he could not imagine how they could do it, the threat was there.

The Centre for Journalist Investigations [CJI] reported on 24 July that a new wave of evacuations has been underway in Melitopol  since the middle of July, namely that of families with school-age children.  “They don’t want the schoolchildren to study ‘according to Russian Federation standards’, so that their children’s heads are filled with propaganda, lies about history and that they’re taught to hate everything Ukrainian.

The occupation regime has speeded up attempts to impose ‘education’ according to a Russian curriculum by 1 September.   Part of the reason is clearly to simulate ‘normality’ in the run-up to the pseudo-referendum on ‘joining Russia’ that the aggressor state is planning to stage in parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts under its occupation.  School buildings are traditionally used as polling stations, and teachers part of electoral commissions, so it will stand up if these are all boarded up and not functioning. 

CJI spoke with Tetiana who had long held off leaving, hoping that Melitopol  would be liberated before the beginning of the school year.  She has now left to ensure that her daughter can be registered in a new school on free territory.  She says that there could be no question of her daughter going to a school under Russian occupation and being taught “to love” Russia, and not get an education.

The methods used have already been seen in occupied Crimea and Donbas, with Russia clearly planning the same levels of propaganda and indoctrination in any parts of Ukraine that falls under its occupation.

Russia’s education minister, Sergei Kravtsov, who has appeared in the newly occupied territory several times, has spelled this out all too clearly.

There are no real attempts to conceal this. Russia has sent its ‘education minister’, Sergei Kravtsov.  The teachers’ task, he claims, is to convince the children that the Russian invaders are actually ‘friends’. 

The key issue is to tell schoolchildren the whole truth about our brotherly peoples, about our shared achievements and victories.  That is the key thing, and we’ll resolve all the rest – textbooks, infrastructure, everything”.

Russian textbooks are being brought in, and attempts are underway to get teachers to ‘retrain’.  As reported, there were grandiose claims at the end of May that 20 thousand teachers from occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts would be sent to occupied Crimea to ‘increase their qualifications’, i.e. to get them to teach according to ‘Russian standards’.  The plans ran up against the hard reality of overwhelming opposition to Russian occupation, with very few teachers agreeing to collaborate.  In fact, even the attempt to impose ‘Russian standards’ has come up against another typical problem.  The invaders reject Ukrainian textbooks, but have not sent anything like enough copies of their own versions.

JI notes that the frenzied preparations are not just because 1 September is approaching, but because those who have agreed to collaborate are eager to demonstrate their loyalty and ability to organize the new order they have signed up to.

Another crucial motive here, as in those areas occupied since 2014, is to use children to put more pressure on their parents.  If small children are unlikely to understand what is happening, senior school students and the vast majority of parents oppose  Russian occupation.   In all areas under Russian control, attempts were made to stage ‘Last Bell’ festivities marking school graduation.  CJI reported earlier, citing local residents, that only several dozen students in the whole of Melitopol  had attended such Russian-organized fakes.  Most of Kravtsov’s visits to the city were doubtless planned as propaganda events, but the collaborators were never able to muster up the audiences.

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